Two legislative committees have signed off on an emergency voting plan that would slightly expand the ability to vote by mail – but which doesn’t go nearly as far as an earlier plan that was shot down last week. The agreement came as reports continue to roll in of new COVID-19 cases that may be linked to in-person voting in Wisconsin. The agreement allows emergency absentee ballots only for people at particularly high risk of complications from the virus. Senate Republicans objected to an earlier, broader proposal citing concerns — backed by no evidence — over voter fraud. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports:
The new plan, submitted by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, reduces the number of reasons people can qualify for an absentee ballot out of concern for the coronavirus. Originally, the plan would have allowed absentee ballots for those 60 or older, those subject to a stay-at-home order, those unable to appear in public due to concern of exposure or transmission of COVID-19, or those caring for a child or grandchild whose school or child care provider is closed because of the virus. All those reasons are gone in the new plan, which applies only to July and August elections but could provide a foundation for the November presidential elections if the coronavirus makes a resurgence in the fall.
Low-Income college students left out from key coronavirus assistance
In response to exploding unemployment rates and spiking food insecurity, Congress authorized states to waive work requirements for most SNAP (formerly, Food Stamp) recipients. But low-income college students, most of whom are already excluded from food assistance unless they work at least 20 hours per week, were excluded from the waiver. To fill in this gap, many states — including Louisiana — asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to let students access the program. The agency said no, leaving college students with less access to food help than they had before. Inside Higher Ed’s Madeline St. Amour explains:
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 40 percent of students reported being food insecure to some extent, (CLASP’s Ashley) Burnside said. It’s possible more students will need SNAP now, and that students who are currently eligible will lose that eligibility as they lose their jobs or work hours. Burnside recommends states help students enroll in SNAP through other exemptions, such as students who have caregiving responsibilities. States can also use their authority to provide good-cause exemptions, she said. While much of the data is unknown, Walizer said it’s safe to say people need more help now, not less.
More data needed on Covid-19 disparities
Deep racial disparities in Covid-19 death rates have shined a new light on old injustices. But in the absence of detailed information about how and where black Louisianans are contracting the virus, some commentators have tried to blame the very black communities hurt most in the pandemic. As The Data Center’s Lamar Gardere explains in Nola.com | The Advocate, however, underlying health conditions alone don’t explain why a disproportionate share of Louisiana’s Coronavirus victims are black — but more detailed data would paint a truer picture.
One thing is certain, the prevalence of underlying health conditions does not explain the shocking gap between black and white COVID-19 deaths between black and white Louisianans. Black Louisianans’ rate of high blood pressure at 42% is not different enough from white Louisianans’ rate of high blood pressure at 38% to explain the COVID death disparity. Nor is black Louisianans rate of diabetes (18%) compared to white people (13%). Heart disease is also commonly associated with COVID-19 deaths, but, as it turns out, slightly more white Louisianans suffer from heart disease (6.6%) than do black Louisianans (4.9%). The state must look beyond commonly cited issues of health disparities to explain and address the difference in COVID-19 deaths between black and white people.
Give the states money
Unlike the federal government, most states can’t go into debt to finance their operations. As a result Louisiana and many other states may be forced to cut public services just when they’re needed most, taking money out of the economy and slowing down a recovery. But as economist Matthew Fiedler writes in the New York Times, Congress has a powerful tool for averting catastrophic damage to state budgets, and keeping sorely needed public services running: giving states money. Whether they’ll use that tool or let state finances crumble, however, is an open question.
Thankfully, unlike many problems spawned by Covid-19, the coming state budget crisis has a straightforward solution: The federal government can borrow freely and currently at very low interest rates, so it can step in and offer aid to states. Recent federal legislation has taken tentative steps in this direction. Unfortunately, while the enacted aid may be adequate to cover states’ direct costs of responding to Covid-19, it is neither generous enough nor flexible enough to address the broader fiscal pressures states face from falling revenues and rising demands on safety net programs.
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Number of the Day
99,000 – Minimum number of additional projected COVID-19 deaths if America fails to reduce jail populations to prevent disease spread. (Source: American Civil Liberties Union)