As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ripple through Louisiana’s fragile economy, more people are looking for help to put food on the table. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have doubled in recent days. The increased demand comes as the Department of Children and Family Services has shut down its local offices, which means applications have to be made either online or by phone.
The application effort has been made more difficult by DCFS shutting down most face-to-face interactions to limit potential exposure. The agency closed the Orleans Region offices and is transitioning to reduced workforce on-site in other offices statewide. … Determining SNAP eligibility is a fairly complex process with many factors, such as shelter expenses, influencing sums that are then compared to federal brackets that determine who qualifies.
Public pressure should have been unnecessary to suspend session
The Louisiana Legislature is supposed to lead. But in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana’s legislators were among the last groups (Rep. Clay Higgins notwithstanding) to realize it was time to shut things down in the name of public health. The Advocate’s editorial board weighs in:
The plans included requiring a temperature check for admission to the State Capitol, spacing people apart in hearing rooms, whatever “social distancing” would allow the legislative show to go on. All these frets continued, long past the time that the leadership, if not the rank-and-file members, should have grasped the obvious: If Louisiana’s families and businesses had to be disrupted to reduce gatherings that would spread the virus, the throngs downtown centered on the Legislature needed to go home too.
Louisiana’s digital divide hurts students
More than 7 in 10 Louisiana public school students live in households deemed “economically disadvantaged.” And many of those households lack reliable high-speed internet access that public school students will need if they want to continue to learn at home while school is closed. The Advocate’s Will Sentell explains:
While delivering classes online may be possible in select areas, Louisiana has one of the lowest rates of households with internet access in the nation: 69%. In addition, nearly 71% of public school students come from economically disadvantaged families, another challenge in any effort to suddenly upgrade instruction from traditional classrooms to Zoom, YouTube or other avenues. … “The majority of our kids don’t have machines or internet accessibility so we will be preparing paper packets for review/practice work,” Paul Nelson, superintendent of the Tensas Parish school system in northeast Louisiana said in an email Monday.
Medicaid can improve COVID-19 coverage
A new brief from the Kaiser Foundation explains how Medicaid expansion can play a key role in connecting people to testing and treatment for COVID-19. Authors Samantha Artiga and Robin Rudowitz lay out several options that states can enact, including broadening eligibility, ensuring eligible residents are enrolled or do enroll in Medicaid and submitting additional waivers to the federal government seeking greater flexibility in coverage and care access. But states can also suspend or postpone renewal dates to ensure no recipients lose coverage during this pandemic. Louisiana could see 24,000 people kicked off the rolls because they no longer meet income requirements.
The announcement comes only months after 46,000 Medicaid beneficiaries lost coverage in Louisiana, largely due to failure to fill out paperwork. In response, the state decided to send out pre-filled forms with their notices for Medicaid renewal. Nonetheless, the state stands to see another 24,000 lose their coverage simply due to a failure to turn in the required forms, Louisiana Budget Project Executive Director Jan Moller told local news outlets. Moller said that the state should halt coverage suspensions in light of the impending COVID-19, but the state has shown no intention of doing so.
Number of the Day
69% – The rate of households with internet access in Louisiana, significantly lower than the national average of 77%. (Source: The Advocate)