Fair Wayne Bryant was 38 years old in 1997 when he was convicted in Caddo Parish for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers. His sentence? Life in prison, the result of ridiculously harsh state minimum sentencing laws for people with multiple convictions. Last month the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review the case, meaning Bryant is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison at Angola. Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson—the court’s only Black justice and its only woman—provided the only dissent, noting that taxpayers have already paid $518,667 to keep Bryant behind bars. Nicholas Chrastil at the Lens was first on the story, which has since been picked up across the country.
(Johnson) also called the habitual offender laws that were used to convict Bryant the “modern manifestation” of “Pig Laws” — which were implemented following Reconstruction and introduced extreme punishments for property crime associated with poverty, according to Johnson. “Pig Laws were largely designed to re-enslave African Americans,” Johnson, the court’s first Black chief justice and only Black justice currently sitting on the court, wrote. “They targeted actions such as stealing cattle and swine — considered stereotypical ‘negro’ behavior — by lowering the threshold for what constituted a crime and increasing the severity of its punishment.”
States fill the void on Covid testing
President Donald Trump’s refusal to implement a national strategy for coronavirus testing has left a policy vacuum that states are rushing to fill. This week, seven governors (including Louisiana) announced that they have formed a purchasing compact in the hopes of giving companies the incentive they need to quickly produce rapid-detection tests. Erin Cox reports for The Washington Post:
President Trump delegated responsibility for building a testing system to states, which developed a patchwork system — more robust in some places than others. He has declined to use the Defense Production Act to encourage development and production of rapid tests. The private sector and philanthropic groups, including the Rockefeller Foundation, have drafted detailed proposals about how to launch a national testing strategy. The foundation suggested to governors that they form a compact to encourage private companies to ramp up new tests.
Long lines at the food pantry
About 1 in 6 Louisianans don’t have enough food to eat, and the expiration of federal unemployment benefits last month is likely to make that problem even worse in the days ahead. As Jarvis DeBerry reports for the Illuminator, the earlier rounds of federal coronavirus relief did not do nearly enough to target aid to families that need help the most.
Ironically, Congress’ boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food stamps program is known) didn’t help the people who most need a boost. Families that had been getting less than the maximum benefits for a household their size now get that maximum, which is good news for them. However, an April 21 memo from the USDA to state agencies administering the SNAP program says SNAP households that already receive the maximum monthly allotment for their household size are not eligible for EA,’” meaning emergency allotments. The pandemic makes it even harder than it already was for families to make ends meet, but, according to a report last week from the Center for American Progress, 7 million households (12 million people) have been excluded from the extra money Congress devoted to SNAP. Those figures include 37 percent of Louisiana’s SNAP recipients. Those 299,886 people include 142,897 children.
Racial inequality and the Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve would play an active role in helping to reduce economic and wealth disparities along racial lines under legislation introduced this week by Democrats on Capitol Hill. The bill would require the bank to take actions to “minimize and eliminate racial disparities in employment, wages, wealth, and access to affordable credit.” It would mark the first change in the central bank’s official mission since 1977. The Washington Post’s Heather Long:
The Black unemployment rate has been about double the White unemployment rate for decades, and the coronavirus pandemic and recession have hit Black and Hispanic neighborhoods far harder than those of Whites. There’s also a gaping divide in how much wealth Black families have, compared with White families. Wealth takes into account income, savings, homeownership, stock and bond ownership, and other assets. As of 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the typical White household had more than 11 times the net worth of a Black household. The wealth gap remains as large as it was the late 1960s.
Reminder: LBP is Hiring!
The Louisiana Budget Project is hiring, and we need your help to spread the word. We are looking for diverse candidates committed to LBP’s mission and vision for shared prosperity for all Louisianans. Please read below to learn more. LBP is committed to racial equity and inclusion in its policy advocacy, hiring practices and workplace environment. Click here to learn about the Policy Analyst position, and here to learn about the Advocacy Manager position. The application period closes Aug. 10.
Number of the Day
891,349 – Number of Louisiana households (51.3%) with annual incomes in 2018 below the “household survival budget” as measured by the United Way’s ALICE report. (Source: United Way)