Building something better

Building something better

From the depths of the Civil War came federal action to establish land-grant universities and the intercontinental railroad. From the Great Depression sprung a national minimum wage, Social Security and the right to collective bargaining. As the coronavirus pandemic has amplified the deep, structural economic and racial inequities in American society, The New York Times editorial board, in a must-read essay, is calling for a renewed national focus on the types of policies that can ensure that health and economic security exists for everyone, not just the privileged few. 

The larger project, however, is to increase the resilience of American society. Generations of federal policymakers have prioritized the pursuit of economic growth with scant regard for stability or distribution. This moment demands a restoration of the national commitment to a richer conception of freedom: economic security and equality of opportunity. 

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, working with partners including LBP, released a “Roadmap to Recovery” report on Monday detailing concrete steps the state can take to ensure a brighter, more inclusive post-pandemic future. 

Our collective response to this disaster needs to be different than it has been in the past. We must center people, especially our most vulnerable populations, in every way we approach this response and recovery effort. 

Enhanced unemployment benefits start today
Louisianans who’ve lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic – including gig workers and contract employees who previously were ineligible for benefits – can begin collecting $600 per week in unemployment benefits starting today (Monday). Tyler Bridges reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate that the money comes after a week in which 102,172 state residents filed for unemployment – up from about 1,500 in a typical week. 

The extra $600 is especially welcome in Louisiana because while the state offers a maximum of $247 per week, the average payment is $216, the lowest in the country other than Mississippi’s $214. Leaders of 13 nonprofit groups are calling on Edwards to raise the $247 to a flat $370 per week, the national average. The governor has yet to respond to that request.

The Louisiana Budget Project wants to hear from Louisiana workers about their experiences applying for unemployment insurance. This information will help inform our advocacy and recommendations to state officials going forward. Click here to complete a survey. No personally identifying information will be kept or disseminated. 


Coronavirus tests small-town budgets
The coronavirus pandemic is almost certain to raise havoc with the state budget, as sales and income-tax revenues plunge while expenses escalate. But the financial strain could be even more severe for Louisiana’s small towns, many of which were already in crisis before the pandemic. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that some relief could be coming from the federal government through the CARES Act, but it won’t be enough: 

As plush as the recently passed CARES Act is, the $2.2 trillion in federal funds isn’t enough, the Economic Policy Institute said Thursday. “We estimate that roughly $500 billion more will be needed by the end of 2021 to keep state and local governments from becoming a significant drag on economic recovery after the public health crisis passes,” estimated the Washington, D.C.-based economic research group, which is affiliated with organized labor.


Snapshots from a pandemic
Our Lady of the Lake hospital in Baton Rouge let reporter Andrea Gallo spend a day inside its walls last week to observe how frontline workers with the region’s largest health care provider are coping with the unprecedented challenge posed by the novel coronavirus. As she reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, the Lake has fared better than most in securing necessary protective equipment, as nearly half its patients are there because of the virus. 

In normal circumstances, months could go by at Our Lady of the Lake without any patients being “proned,” an intricate, Hail Mary option in which patients on ventilators who are still struggling to breathe are turned face down in the hope they’ll breathe better. But proning is now an hourly occurrence here. Corrie Presley, a director of nursing, could tell immediately when she walked into a room that staffers were about to prone a patient. 

The Washington Post’s great Eli Saslow looks at how the pandemic’s economic fallout has affected a grocery store owner in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. Burnell Cotlon, who opened Burnell’s Market in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, describes how quickly the virus has changed economic circumstances in his neighborhood: 

I’ve got 62 tabs in the book now. From zero to 62 in less than a month. It’s page after page of customers on credit. I’m out almost $3,000 so far. I know that might not sound like much, but at a store like this it’s my electric bill, my water bill, the mortgage on my house. I never missed a mortgage payment in my life until April 1st came and went, and now this virus has me calling around and asking for forgiveness, too. I’m paying one of my employees with free breakfast. I’m maxed on bills. I’m doing my best to keep this place open.


Number of the Day
59.7% – Percentage of annual revenue that comes from sales taxes in small municipalities in Louisiana. In Texas, where property taxes are higher, about 30% of municipal revenue comes from sales taxes (Source: The Advocate)