The Louisiana Legislature adjourned Tuesday after passing a $35.2 billion state budget that will fund essential services, healthcare, public schools and higher education for the next year. Business lobbyists set the agenda for the session, which yielded a long list of business tax breaks, uncertainty on pay raises for civil servants and a modest state benefit for essential workers. Between the regular and extraordinary sessions, though, lawmakers failed to provide Louisiana workers with a minimum wage increase, paid sick days or better unemployment insurance benefits—Louisiana’s are the lowest in the country. Sam Karlin of Nola.com | The Advocate breaks down the numbers and explains why additional federal aid is critical to averting draconian budget cuts:
(…) the state largely avoided serious budget controversies because of an influx of federal coronavirus aid. By the end of the special session, lawmakers had sent more than $900 million to plug holes in the state budget, up to $300 million to small businesses, more than $500 million to local governments and $50 million to front-line workers. “For the most part we have essentially a standstill budget,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma. “Our federal partners came to the rescue to some degree,” Senate President Page Cortez said in a press conference after the session ended.
The AP’s Melinda Deslatte provides a breakdown of the business tax breaks that will pull money from the state budget at a time when everyday Louisianans face a critical need for well-functioning public services:
The bills would cost about $25 million in the budget year that begins Wednesday, according to financial estimates. But in some instances, the financial impact of the bills is not entirely clear — and some of the proposals are back-loaded, so they will cost tens of millions more in later years. The tax breaks, with extensions included, are estimated to total at least $230 million in lost tax collections over five years, but could cost much more, according to nonpartisan bill analyses.
LBP plans to publish a longer review of the legislative sessions in the coming days.
Short window for federal aid
When Congress reconvenes later this month, lawmakers will have just 11 days to pass the next round of critically needed federal aid. The House and Senate will both be in session starting July 21, just as enhanced traditional unemployment benefits and pandemic unemployment assistance are set to expire on July 31. Millions of Americans, off work due to the resurging pandemic, rely on these benefits to pay their rent, buy groceries and make car payments. Congress will need to act quickly to avoid the devastating consequences of doing nothing. Dion Rabouin of Axios makes the case for why more aid is needed:
There is growing evidence that the Fed’s programs are not benefiting ordinary Americans and congressional action has missed the mark. The most obvious is jobs data, which show 33.1 million Americans still receiving some form of unemployment benefits. Banks, flush with record new deposits from antsy customers, have significantly reduced loans and tightened lending standards. The U.S. savings rate in May was 23.2%, down from April’s record 32.2%, but still nearly three times as high as before the pandemic.
A second chance for children
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that sentencing children to life in prison without parole was unconstitutional, and made that ruling retroactive four years later. But the ruling did nothing to address the “virtual life sentences” that keep people imprisoned for all or nearly all of their lives despite having an end date. More than 600 young people in Louisiana are serving sentences of more than 50 years for offenses committed when they were children, according to a report by The Sentencing Project. Act 99, passed during the regular legislative session earlier this year, aims to lower that number by removing barriers for eligible inmates to apply for parole. Jacqueline DeRobertis of The Advocate explains the science behind the policy:
As scientists eventually learned the decision-making part of the brain doesn’t fully develop until well into adulthood, the understanding of how trauma can influence children’s actions also changed. Adverse childhood experiences, such as physical and sexual abuse, poverty and drug-addiction, can further endanger rational decisions in minds that are still maturing. (…) Juvenile lifers who re-enter society on parole are unlikely to return to criminal activities, according to a recent study from Montclair State University. The report shows that the recidivism rate for juvenile lifers in Philadelphia was just shy of 1%.
Racism is a public health crisis
Racial health disparities begin before birth and often last a lifetime, according to the latest installment of the State of Babies Yearbook 2020 by ZERO TO THREE. Louisiana moms and babies are particularly at risk as the state received the lowest possible ranking (of four) for providing a strong foundation on which to GROW (the scoring acronym). Policy choices such as a lack of paid family and sick leave, lack of state child tax credit and an underfunded early care and education system have kept Louisiana moms and babies behind. Maggie Clark of the Georgetown Center on Children and Families reviews the report:
Racism is a public health crisis that “harms children’s health, even before they are born,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sally Goza in a statement following the police killing of George Floyd and widespread protests erupted in June. But just as policies rooted in racism produce health disparities, policy decisions based in equity and anti-racism can create opportunities for everyone to thrive. As the brief points out, the opportunity to break free from the racist structures that produce health inequities starts with getting it right for mothers and babies.
Programming note: The Daily Dime is taking its annual hiatus for the rest of July. We’ll be back in your inboxes on Aug. 3.
Number of the Day
11% – Percentage of the U.S. workforce currently out of work with zero chance of getting called back to their prior job. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)