Louisiana’s presidential primaries, along with a host of local elections, are delayed due to the coronavirus. But with no clear end in sight to the social distancing orders, more Louisiana voters will have to vote remotely to avoid turning polling sites into hotspots for viral spread. As The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports, Republicans on a key Senate committee rejected an emergency plan developed by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to expand voting by mail. The action comes as deadlines loom to print the paper ballots the state needs to support a large increase in absentee voting.
The fate of the state’s elections, now set for July 11th for the presidential primary and August 15 for local general elections after two delays, is up in the air. Ardoin said in an interview he would work with lawmakers and the governor to try to craft a compromise, but he noted he faces a “drop dead” deadline to buy equipment on April 24th. The full House and Senate must also approve the plan. “I hear what they’re saying,” Ardoin said. “I think some of their concerns are not steeped in all the facts that were presented to them today. I’m hoping over time there can be some clarity.”
New federal funding for child care centers
When shuttered businesses eventually begin to re-open, dependable child care for workers with young children will be essential. But according to a survey by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, one-third of all child care centers in the state potentially face permanent closures due to financial losses caused by the coronavirus. A new source of federal funding available through the child care development block grant may help some centers to re-open their doors. David Jacobs writes in the Center Square about the new federal money headed to the state:
The biggest allocation, almost $67.6 million from the federal department of Health and Human Services, is meant to support Louisiana child care providers in communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic. “A lot of Louisiana’s essential workers depend on child care so that they can focus on helping our community through this pandemic,” (U.S. Sen. John Neely) Kennedy said. “This HHS funding will give child care providers critical support so that we can all keep helping each other.”
Feds shutting out formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs
In a job market hostile to people with a criminal record, building a small business has provided many formerly incarcerated people with a difficult but viable option for success after release. But now many of those businesses, often anchor institutions in their communities, are in peril, thanks to a Small Business Administration policy that is likely to block Paycheck Protection Program loans for millions of people who have satisfied all of the conditions of their sentences. Route Fifty’s Emma Coleman has the report on a policy set to compound racial inequities in the criminal justice system with further discrimination in coronavirus relief funding:
Claudia De Palma, a staff attorney for the Public Interest Law Center, said that given the difficulties of finding a job with a record, many formerly incarcerated people resort to opening their own business, a path further encouraged by hundreds of reentry to entrepreneurship programs that have sprung up in prisons in the past few years. “Often folks who have records have a hard time getting into the workforce, even in a good economy,” De Palma said. “A fair number of them turn to starting their own business. Those businesses then tend to be more inclusive in their hiring, and provide a lifeline for other people with records in their community.”
Out of prison, into a pandemic
Louisiana, which vies with Oklahoma for the title of most incarcerated state in the nation, has been slow to develop a plan for releasing medically vulnerable inmates to avoid some of the worst effects of coronavirus in the state’s prison facilities. Only 100 of the 32,000 people confined to state custody are potentially eligible for release under the program developed by the state’s Department of Corrections. But, as the Counter’s Caitlin Dewey explains, those people who are released will need significantly more coordinated help to navigate the “stay at home” economy.
With welfare offices closed in many states, and service backlogs in some areas stretching for days, many now fear these vulnerable people will face hunger or homelessness in addition to disease. It’s not just early-release inmates who are at risk, either: Everyone completing a jail or prison sentence now—and there are over 600,000 such people each year—will potentially face long delays to access food and shelter. “I was wishing I’d get out,” Mele said. “But then also, damn, I hoped I wouldn’t get out, because I had nothing to go out to. I told them, ‘you know—I’m going to be homeless.’ And they said ‘good luck to you.’”
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Number of the Day
700 – Number of quarantine rooms needed to house New Orleans’s street homeless population during the pandemic. Most of the city’s homeless people are between the ages of 55 and 65, a population particularly susceptible to the virus. (Source: Nola.com)