A blow to “debtors’ prison” in New Orleans

A blow to “debtors’ prison” in New Orleans

Judges in New Orleans have routinely sent poor people to prison for failing to pay mandatory fines and fees that finance court-related expenses for those very same judges. Now, as The Times-Picayune | The Advocate’s John Simerman reports, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals court has ruled that this arrangement represents an institutional conflict of interest, and that the court in New Orleans must create a neutral system for ensuring that defendants’ pleas of poverty are heard by different people than the ones who stand to benefit from the fees they pay:

Historically, fines and fees have contributed about $1 million a year to the court’s Judicial Expense Fund, which the judges tap for staff salaries, office supplies, conferences and legal junkets. (U.S. District Judge Sarah) Vance ruled that the judges had too much stake in the money to also serve as collections officers with the power to imprison. The appeals court panel of Judges Catharine Haynes, James Graves Jr. and James Ho agreed. In a 13-page ruling, the panel unanimously found that “when everything involved in this case is put together, the ‘temptation’ is too great” for the judges to make rulings based on the court’s need for revenue.


The people who care for our ailing and aging make next to nothing
Home health aides work difficult jobs with extraordinarily long hours, providing 24-hour care for disabled and elderly people living at home. But despite the importance of their work, the demands of the job, and the skills required, these workers – mostly women of color – are among the lowest-paid professionals in America. A report by Andy Newman at the New York Times details how low state Medicaid reimbursement rates leave home care workers struggling to get by while working nearly every hour they are awake:

Marjorie agreed to do the job for a flat rate of $160 per day plus room and board. Her workday starts when Bob wakes up, or before, and finishes after he goes to sleep, and can stretch for 14 or 16 hours or more. She works 26 or 27 days out of the month. The pay is not much — at 16 hours a day, it would come to $10 an hour — but Bob’s family is deeply grateful, and that counts for a lot. “If I take a client and I have the respect,” she said, “I will stay through to the end.” Home health care is the fastest growing major job category in the country, one of the most emotionally and personally demanding, and one of the worst paid.

The median annual wage for a home health aide in Louisiana is $19,610


Segregating schools by drawing new districts
School segregation has been illegal since 1954, but a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibits courts from desegregating schools across district lines. Now, a new study examining public school districts created since 2000 – including around Baton Rouge – finds that the practice of carving out new districts has worsened school segregation, and has diverted resources to wealthier, whiter public schools. The AP’s Jeff Amy has the story:

Beyond racial overtones, those who study secessions say there’s also a resource disparity. Voters in Pike Road agreed to a property tax increase, and the school is spending $10 million to renovate its high school, a historically black campus that it bought from Montgomery County for another $10 million. “We saw in a single year, that these secession areas as a whole were overwhelmingly whiter and wealthier,” said Rebecca Sibilia, the executive director of EdBuild, a school funding advocacy group that has studied the fragmentation of districts.


The poor pay the most for Trump’s trade war
Tariffs on goods produced abroad raise the prices of those wares for American consumers. And while wealthy people consume more of these goods, poor people spend a greater proportion of their income to cover the costs of President Trump’s trade war. The New York Times’s Quoctrung Bui and Karl Russell report on a new analysis the quantifies the damage to consumers at different income levels: 

This round — a 15 percent tariff on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods as varied as cereal bowls, paint brushes and pajamas — is likely to hit American households in the most direct way yet. By how much? About $460 over a year for the average family, according to an analysis from the economists Kirill Borusyak at University College London and Xavier Jaravel and at the London School of Economics. Across the income spectrum, the tariffs may cost up to $970 for America’s wealthiest households and as low as $340 for its poorest. These estimates includes tariffs enacted so far as well as proposed increases for later this year.


Number of the Day:
1,859,000 – Number of households in Louisiana that lack access to enough food at all times for an active and healthy life, due to economic circumstances. Approximately 15.8% of all households in the state are “food insecure”, and an estimated 6.8% of all households have at least one member who skips meals or reduces the size of their meals in order to make ends meet. (Source: USDA-Economic Research Service)