Public defenders are going broke

Public defenders are going broke

The Legislature’s special session agenda was crafted by corporations and business lobbyists, and includes a long wish list of policies that business interests were pushing before the pandemic. Legislators are proposing a host of new tax breaks and incentive programs, which would only make it harder to fund basic state services. In the meantime, legislators are balking at public defenders’ request for state funding to fill the Covid-sized holes in their already inadequate budgets. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has the story

Louisiana’s indigent defense system, which has been criticized as underfunded for years, receives more than half its financing from a patchwork of court fines and fees. As courts shuttered for nearly three months amid the coronavirus outbreak, much of that money has dried up, public defenders told lawmakers. “We understand that we’re in a fiscal crisis … but we can’t do our job without the funding to do it. Our job is constitutionally mandated,” said Meghan Garvey, a New Orleans public defender. “This is a serious crisis.” Committee members were sympathetic, but it was unclear if they would steer more dollars to indigent defense, as they already are considering cuts to health care programs and public colleges because of the virus’s hit to state tax collections.

While Black people make up 32% of Louisiana’s population, 66% of the people incarcerated in Louisiana’s jails and prisons are Black.


Predatory for-profit colleges poised for a comeback
When the economy slips, people who are out of work often head back to school for credentials that they hope will make them more competitive in a tighter labor market. But for many prospective students, it can be hard to tell the difference between a meaningful credential and a slickly marketed degree with no value on the job market. As Lauren Camera writes in U.S. News and World Report, with restrictions on for-profit colleges loosened by President Donald Trump’s administration, state officials and higher education experts are warning prospective students to watch out for programs that will leave them with debt, but little else.

While the worst actors in the sector collapsed and others merged in the wake of federal regulations meant to crack down on the industry, the Trump administration has been working to loosen restrictions, arguing that career colleges often provide more flexibility for parents and others with complicated schedules. Now, with enrollment in the sector back to 2007 levels, a recent report from The Institute for College Access and Success shows that for-profits are ready to make a resurgence.

During the last economic recovery, Black students were 2.5 times as likely and Hispanic students were twice as likely as white students to be enrolled at for-profit institutions.


Renters need relief
With thousands out of work and government support often slow to arrive, state and federal moratoria on evictions have been a lifeline for struggling families. Soon, though, those policies will expire, leaving low-income renters unprotected while many still have little ability to pay. As | The Advocate’s Matt Sledge and Jessica Williams report, a rush to evict may not benefit landlords, but would certainly send many people to the streets right as hurricane season begins. 

Loyola University law professor Davida Finger said a longer extension would be in everyone’s best interest. “If these owners have low-rent, market rate units, the expectation that some other renter is going to be able to move in during this time period is misplaced,” Finger said. “Common sense tells us that what we’re going to wind up with, if we have mass evictions, is vacancies and homelessness. If people could pay, they would.”

While 59% of the population of New Orleans is Black, 82% of city evictions in a recent study involved Black tenants.


Poverty kills
Since the 1970s, wealthy Americans and poor Americans have moved farther apart—both in income and in geography. As a result, while America’s rich enjoy access to a wide variety of advantages that promote better health, America’s poor increasingly live in conditions that degrade their health and well-being. The New York Times’ Yaryna Serkez illustrates the many health costs of our failure to address poverty, and the racial and economic segregation that harm people of color with low-incomes the most:

(T)he physical environments of the neighborhoods in which lower-income and affluent Americans are most likely to live are very different. Poor areas have limited access to healthy food and a higher density of convenience stores and fast-food outlets. They usually have less green space and areas for recreation, which deprives residents of opportunities to exercise regularly. Low-income communities are also more likely to be closer to industrial facilities, so people who live there are more exposed to hazardous pollutants. … Decades of systematic racism have also left their marks on health inequality. In low-income communities that are also deeply concentrated with people of color, the prevalence of health conditions that are risk factors for Covid-19 is two to three times higher than the median.

53% of the people who have died of Covid-19 in Louisiana are Black.


Number of the Day
21.2% – Proportion of the U.S. labor force who were unemployed, working part time because they couldn’t find full time work, or who wanted work but had given up searching in May. The official unemployment rate, which leaves out involuntary part-time workers and those who want work but have stopped looking, fell 1.4 points to 13.3% between April and May. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)