Louisiana is facing a nearly $1 billion budget hole next year due to the economic fallout of Covid-19. The revenue shortfall could mean devastating cuts to public colleges and universities, hospitals and other vital services, right when we need them most. In the face of this reality, the Legislature is proposing to dig the hole even deeper with massive tax cuts for corporations and oil drillers. The Baton Rouge Advocate | The Times-Picayune editorial board has more on how our legislators have bungled the budget in good times and bad:
Because of the Katrina-size hole, the giving away of any revenues in the name of economic stimulus makes no sense for a state Legislature or city council, anywhere. They may pamper themselves with staff and status but they are not members of the U.S. Congress, which can make those kind of decisions without real consequences in the short term.
Congress should pass a boost for households and the economy
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a coronavirus relief bill this week that would provide a much-needed additional $3 trillion to help workers, cities and states rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic—an amount that meets the scale of our crisis. The HEROES Act would include new stimulus checks to Americans, funding for testing and essential aid for cities and states to fill in budget shortfalls. Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has more:
States, which are required to balance their budgets every year, face collapsing sales and income tax revenue, which will produce budget gaps totaling an estimated $650 billion, of which state reserves and the federal relief provided to date will fill only a modest portion. In the absence of strong further federal support, many states will institute painful budget cuts in areas such as education and health care — which account for the lion’s share of state budgets — and lay off teachers and other staff and terminate various contracts with businesses. That would materially worsen the recession, delay recovery, and deepen the harm that families and communities are already experiencing.
The safety net fails college students
Adam Raskell, a 40-year-old student at Blue Ridge Community College, was working more than 20 hours a week while in school full time in order to maintain the SNAP benefits that let him keep food on the table. But when Covid-19 hit, he couldn’t keep his job, and because he’s a full-time student, he doesn’t qualify for exemptions from SNAP work requirements, even while the job market is tanking. As a result, his vital food assistance is in jeopardy. Welsey Jenkins writes for The Urban Institute about how Adam and other students are navigating a public benefits system designed to exclude students during this crisis.
To address the gaps in that system, some states have petitioned to expand coverage amid the COVID-19 pandemic by asking the government to waive the additional student eligibility requirements. But the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service agency denied the request. That leaves the $6.2 billion allocated to higher education institutions through the CARES Act as the primary form of federal assistance many students will receive during the COVID-19 crisis. Each college was allocated funds through a formula that was weighted toward full-time, Pell-eligible students but also considered total population and part-time students enrolled before the pandemic. Blue Ridge was allocated $1.86 million; Reynolds was allocated $4.15 million.
Hunger is on the rise
America was facing a hunger crisis before the coronavirus hit. The pandemic will only make matters worse. The Trump administration has taken some actions to address hunger, but those actions have been timid compared to the need. The New York Times’ Lola Fadulu has the story on how hunger is spreading in America:
The hunger problems are likely to worsen for people like Rhoda Johnson in St. James Parish, La. Ms. Johnson, 60, used to walk with her four grandchildren to the end of their street in the morning to pick up milk and Frosted Flakes for breakfast and corn dogs and fresh fruit for lunch from a school bus that would stop there along its meal delivery route. But the school shut down its meal program on March 22 because an employee tested positive for Covid-19. “Now it is nothing, absolutely nothing,” Ms. Johnson said.Her daughter uses her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as the food-stamp program, to feed her children, but even before the pandemic, the benefits did not last the entire month. Ms. Johnson herself has depended on neighbors and friends who share their food.
Number of the Day
64,000 – The number of Louisianans who would have lost their Medicaid coverage, but will keep it due to federal coronavirus funding (Source: The Associated Press)