As Louisiana’s economy plunges into recession, the Medicaid program will be more important than ever in ensuring that people who lose their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic have access to health services. But as the state economy contracts, so will the state revenue available to spend on Medicaid. A recent federal stimulus bill provides some much-needed relief. But it won’t be enough to sustain the program through the difficult and uncertain months ahead, as LBP’s policy director Stacey Roussel explains in a new blog: .
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, approved in March, includes a vital 6.2% increase in the federal government’s share of Medicaid costs (the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage or FMAP). This change will inject approximately $36 billion in additional funding to cash-strapped state budgets. For Louisiana, the match rate change translates to $570 million in additional funding for Louisiana in 2020.
An unemployment logjam
Claims for state unemployment benefits are running at 30 times their typical volume, as hundreds of thousands of Louisianans face layoffs due to the coronavirus-inspired economic freeze. This has put unprecedented strains on the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which this week began doling out the extra $600 in weekly benefits authorized by Congress last month. Former state insurance commissioner Robert Wooley in charge of the process, and told The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges that patience is needed:
“We care,” Wooley said. “These are our fellow citizens. We’re doing everything we can. We’re all using the same platform. Our employees can’t do more because everything else is slowing the system down. The system is slow for everybody.” Many laid-off workers just want answers. Melinda Knighten, a laid-off cashier in Baton Rouge, said she has been unable to find out why the Workforce Commission denied her unemployment benefits claim.
Reminder: LBP wants to know about the experiences of Louisiana workers who are trying to apply for unemployment benefits, in order to better inform our advocacy. Click here to complete our survey.
Youth’s health in jeopardy at local detention center
More than 10% of Louisiana children in juvenile detention have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 14 staff in the four youth lockups also have been infected. Parents complain that they’ve been given little information about their children, and the state has thus far rebuffed requests to release children until the pandemic is under control. Tyler Kingkade with NBC News has more:
Parents and civil rights activists are frustrated with state officials who have given few details on how they’re dealing with coronavirus cases among incarcerated children. … Louisiana’s top judge, Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson, rejected calls to issue a blanket release of juvenile offenders. However, she requested last week that judges consider releasing youths with less than 90 days left on their sentence, and review others on a case-by-case basis.
Pandemic halts job training for students in need
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a cruel blow to students who were in the final stages of work-based training programs. As Katherine Mangan reports for The Chronicle of Higher Education, these jobs programs attract many students from low-income backgrounds, training them for jobs such as auto mechanics or dental hygiene that don’t require the time and expense of a four-year degree.
“It’s a cascading effect that has students wondering if the two-year program they signed up for is going to take a lot longer,” said David Altstadt, associate director at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that supports efforts to improve education and job outcomes for disadvantaged people. Students also worry that if they have to take an incomplete because they can’t finish their work-based learning, they might drop below full-time status and lose financial aid. “Any kind of disruption can negatively affect their persistence,” Altstadt said. “And low-income students are facing a perfect storm today.”
Number of the Day
$170 billion– Overall cost of a tax-cut provision tucked into the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. About 82% of the benefits will go to families with annual incomes above $1 million. (Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy)