Louisiana’s economy cannot fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic unless parents with young children have access to safe, affordable child care. But the people who care for children at the most critical stage of brain development are paid an average of $8.95 an hour. That’s low enough that child care workers who’ve become unemployed are now making more money from their unemployment benefits than they were able to earn caring for young children, thanks to an extra $600 per week coming from the federal government. Will Sentell of The Advocate | The Times-Picayune reports:
Jessica Baghian, assistant state superintendent of education, said the health crisis has shined a spotlight on the ”untenable level of payment” for those who work in centers that largely care for infants and children up to age 5. The dismal pay for teachers in day care centers, though little known outside of education circles, has sparked concerns previously. But the issue is getting renewed attention now that the pandemic has forced the closing of 70% of Louisiana’s roughly 1,400 early learning centers, and left hundreds of teachers out of work.
Budget bills move forward, but to where?
The Louisiana House quickly advanced a package of budget bills on Tuesday, using more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds to plug budget holes left by cratering tax collections. Together, the two bills use $991 million in federal direct payments and $190 million in increased federal Medicaid financing. Legislators also agreed to tap the state’s rainy day fund for $90 million. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports on what in the state’s spending plan:
Modest cuts would fall on the health department, public college campuses and other departments. The TOPS college tuition program, the K-12 school financing formula, the social services agency and prisons would be spared reductions. Spending increases proposed before the pandemic for teacher pay, colleges and early learning programs have been removed because Louisiana can no longer afford them. Legislative agencies would get more money, as would the judicial branch.
With the regular session set to adjourn on Monday, the bills are likely to stall in the Senate and be taken up in a special session that starts immediately thereafter. While legislators appear largely on board with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget priorities, a fight is brewing over $811 million in federal funding set aside for local governments. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports:
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ chief budget officer, has already set up a process for local governments to apply for the funding, and argues the change would delay the funding to locals, whose budgets have been hammered by reduced tax collections, much like the state. But Dardenne has also said it’s unlikely locals will be able to tap into all of that money, and Republicans say it can be put to good use aiding businesses that have been forced to shut down or curtail operations in the midst of the pandemic.
Red state, blue state
Access to healthcare services can look very different in blue states and red states since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The Covid-19 has only widened these disparities as tens of millions of Americans lose jobs and health coverage. The Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levy looks at two mothers who are raising children on low incomes. One lives in Texas, a state that opposed Medicaid expansion and is leading an effort to repeal the ACA. The other lives in California, one of the earliest states to embrace expansion and one of the law’s most ardent defenders.
Even Texans who have insurance pay higher premiums and higher deductibles than Californians, data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show. And Texans are almost twice as likely as Californians to skip care because of cost. They’re also more likely to struggle with medical debt. Nearly 30% of Texans reported past-due medical bills in 2018, compared with 14% of Californians. The persistently high uninsured rate in Texas not only harms patients, but it also strains hospitals, doctors and other medical providers. And it has slowed initiatives to organize medical care so patients get better results and avoid costly and unnecessary tests and procedures.
Schools will need help to recover
Federal coronavirus aid is shielding K-12 public schools from cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. But there’s no guarantee that those funds will be available the following year, and no guarantee the revenue streams that Louisiana uses to pay for state services will rebound quickly. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Nicholas Johnson elaborates in a guest column for The Progressive:
The experience of the Great Recession of 2008 provides a sobering example of what may yet come. School districts have never recovered from the layoffs they imposed back then. When COVID-19 hit, K-12 schools were employing 77,000 fewer teachers and other workers—even though they were teaching two million more children, and overall funding in many states was still below pre-2008 levels. … Whatever federal policymakers do or fail to do, states will need to draw down their reserves, close tax loopholes, and find other ways to protect education funding and other programs serving vulnerable children and families. The education of a generation is at stake.
Number of the Day
32.5 percent – Proportion of Louisiana adults who missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or who have slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)