History tells us that low-income people and people of color, who were vulnerable before the COVID-19 crisis started, will experience the worst from the economic fallout to come. While black people are only 33% of Louisiana’s population, they make up 62% of all of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. As LBP’s Davante Lewis writes in a guest op-ed for Nola.com | The Advocate, this is not a coincidence. The racial disparity in COVID-19’s death toll results from decades of policy neglect and disinvestment in predominantly black communities.
Our policy choices have created poverty, racial wealth gaps, mass incarceration, a lack of affordable housing and environmental racism that are barriers to opportunity for black Louisianans. And these choices are why black Louisianans have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hypertension, diabetes, kidney and cardiac diseases are the most common underlying conditions in COVID-19 deaths. But the real underlying condition is structural racism.
This afternoon at 3:30 p.m., Lewis will be moderating a one-hour panel discussion about Covid-19 and race. An Unequal Relationship: Race and Covid-19 will include public policy experts and advocates from across the country. Click here to register. The event will also be streamed via Facebook Live on LBP’s Facebook page.
Will Louisiana pass a budget?
Perhaps the biggest question facing state legislators is whether they can pass a budget before the regular session adjourns on June 1. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue predicts there is a “50/50 chance” that the budget gets finished. Otherwise, lawmakers will need to reconvene in a special session to craft a spending plan before the next fiscal year begins on July 1. The Monroe News-Star’s Greg Hilburn reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging the legislature to pass a budget now and adjust it in the fall.
“I don’t think we’re going to know anything more in the month of June than we’ll know in May, so I would hope while we’re here in regular session we do the essential work the Legislature has to do and part of that is passing a budget.” Instead of June, Edwards said he believes a special legislative session will be necessary next fall when more information becomes available. Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and New Jersey Democratic U.S. Sen. Menendez have introduced a bill to provide federal funding state governments could use to replace lost revenue, but Congress isn’t expected to pass it by June 1.
Louisianians’ coronavirus sacrifices have paid off
The coronavirus has weakened our economy, has claimed thousands of lives and has amplified our state’s existing injustices. But as Stephanie Grace writes in Nola.com | The Advocate, without hard decisions by state leaders and sustained, collective action by our state’s residents, the virus’s toll would likely have been far worse:
Businesses will struggle with the new, partially-opened normal. Some — probably many — won’t survive, not because of government restrictions but because of the underlying health situation that prompted them. We are still at risk, and in mourning over the loss of way too many friends and loved ones. But let’s take some comfort in the fact that things could have been worse, and probably would have been had we not used our communal power for good. And let’s learn the right lesson from this encouraging moment, and keep at it.
Public schools hoping to hold funding steady
Before the coronavirus blew a $1 billion hole in state revenues, Louisiana’s public schools were hoping for a much-needed funding boost. Now, public school leaders are simply hoping to maintain last year’s funding levels. Substantial federal action can help keep state finances whole, but with federal action and the state’s economic forecast uncertain before the end of the legislative session, education advocates aren’t pushing for an increase. Shane Friddle, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Association of Educators, explains to The Advocate why it is vital to take the state’s current financial outlook into account:
“To actually go out and advocate for that type of thing while all of this is going on I am not sure is the right thing,” Riddle said. “The primary thing we are going to be working on for the remainder of this year and next year is keeping our employees employed and preventing reductions in force,” he said, a reference to teacher layoffs.
Coming up: Forum on Louisiana’s revenue crisis
On Thursday, May 14 at 10 a.m., LBP Executive Director, Jan Moller, will be discussing the state revenue crisis and its implications for the budget in a one-hour seminar on Zoom hosted by Together Baton Rouge. You can register for the seminar by clicking here.
Number of the Day
$650 billion- The total estimated amount of state budget gaps that come as a result of collapsing sales and income tax revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Source: CBPP)