Louisiana can do more to feed hungry kids this summer

Louisiana can do more to feed hungry kids this summer

School is almost out, and for many of Louisiana’s children the end of school—and the end of school lunch—also means the beginning of summer hunger. Nearly 1 in 4 children in Louisiana live in a family that struggles to keep food on the table while meeting their other basic needs. This makes Louisiana 48th in the nation for child food security. And while Louisiana has seen success in feeding more hungry children through school meals, participation in the federally funded Summer Food Service Program has been falling. As Danny Mintz, LBP’s anti-hunger policy advocate, explains in a new blog post, there’s more the state should do to make sure hungry children have enough to eat when school is out of session:

In October, 2018, for procedural reasons, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rescinded six nationwide waivers that simplified administration of the program and had been in place since 2011. But states can reapply for waivers that would increase the efficiency of their own programs. The vast majority of states have already done so. Recently, the Louisiana Department of Education, which administers the summer meals program in our state, applied for and received one of the six rescinded waivers, which allows summer feeding sites to exercise an option to reduce food waste and promotes vegetable consumption. The state also worked with USDA to establish an innovative system that makes it easier for day-camp style summer feeding sites to provide summer meals if they are in an area served by a school participating in the Community Eligibility Program for school lunch—a solution that largely replaces one of the rescinded waivers. These efforts should be applauded. Time is running out for statewide waivers this year, but the Department of Education should work with USDA to apply for the remaining five waivers, for this year if possible, and for future program years as well.


Raising the wage saves lives

In recent years, an increasing percentage of Louisianans have taken their own lives, a worrying trend that mirrors what’s happening at the national level. Now, new research suggests that policymakers who want to reverse that trend shouldn’t overlook one of the best tools available to them: raising the minimum wage. The Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam explains why policies that improve the economic fortunes of those at the lower-end of the wage scale are effective ways to reduce so-called “deaths of despair.”

Among adults without a college education, increasing the (Earned Income Tax Credit) by 10 percent appears to have decreased non-drug suicides by about 5.5 percent. Raising the minimum wage by 10 percent reduced suicides by 3.6 percent. “When they implement these policies, suicides fall very quickly,” Godoey said in an interview. Although raising the minimum wage led to an immediate decrease in suicides, raising the EITC had a delayed effect, resulting in fewer suicides the following year, once the tax change came into force. In both cases, it appears as though taking home more money had a positive effect. The effect was strongest among young women and others who were most likely to have minimum-wage jobs. Among men, black and Hispanic Americans saw the largest effect.

Senate Bill 155, introduced by Sen. Troy Carter, would allow Louisiana voters to decide whether to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour. House Bill 422, introduced by Rep. Royce Duplessis, which would allow local governments to set a minimum wage more adequate to local costs of living, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.


Falling behind in student loan payments may no longer cost you your job

Drastic cuts to public higher education during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration have left students and their families carrying more of the costs of college and professional training. As a result, student loan debt in the state has spiked, leaving more students at risk of default as they begin their careers and establish a firmer financial footing. But a counterproductive state law allowing licensing boards to suspend or revoke licenses for professionals defaulting on student loans puts people’s livelihoods at risk in order to push them to pay off their debts. But, as the NOLA.com/Times-Picayune Editorial Board explains, House BIll 423, which won unanimous approval in both the House Commerce Committee and the state House of Representatives, would fix this problem:

Louisiana’s Board of Nursing said in 2016 it had withdrawn the licenses of 87 nurses who were behind on loan payments, the chamber’s report said. That was a 12 percent increase over the previous year. All but three of the nurses had gotten their licenses reinstated by the time the nursing board report was published. But “half of all nurses at risk of losing their licenses had defaulted on their loans before, indicating that many are likely in a tenuous financial position,” the Louisiana Budget Project pointed out in its analysis. These aren’t large numbers, but the impact on these families could be devastating. “While the state’s current law was originally designed to hold borrowers accountable and prevent defaults, this policy has failed. If people cannot work in the profession they’ve trained for, how can we expect them to pay down the student loans that funded their training?” LBP’s Lewis said.


John White’s second job

While overseeing the state’s schools, Superintendent John White has also quietly served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Propel America, a nonprofit that aims to offer pathways to work for students transitioning out of high school. The program connects students with training, mentorship, and in some cases industry partners, to prepare them for work after graduation. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports, some members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees the Superintendent, may not be fully aware of his role at the non-profit:

White and Rouhanifard, the group’s co-founder and CEO, spelled out the effort’s goals during a 40-minute session at a recent, elite gathering in San Diego sponsored by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley, a social venture investment fund. But the undertaking is little known in Louisiana even while pilot projects are being launched in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. White said Propel America is one of two nonprofit groups he belongs to, noted that other top state officials do the same thing, and said the work does not detract from his role as state superintendent. He is also a member of Chiefs for Change, which includes state and local school superintendents nationwide.