The $600 weekly federal bump in unemployment insurance payments expired at the end of July, and negotiations on a renewal are far from resolved. That leaves unemployed workers in Louisiana with a maximum benefit of $247 per week—one of the lowest benefit levels in the nation—while Covid-19 keeps many industries shuttered. Now, with the state unemployment trust fund shrinking, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Workforce Commission are forcing people seeking unemployment benefits to jump through another hoop each week. Bryn Stole and Tyler Bridges, at Nola.com | The Advocate have the report on the state’s decision to re-impose a “work search” requirement:
Louisiana is one of only a handful of states to reimpose job search requirements for people claiming unemployment benefits. In June, the Texas Workforce Commission announced plans to do just that by July 6, but later scrapped those plans amid a public backlash and rapidly rising coronavirus cases in the state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis similarly reversed course last week, putting job search rules there on hold through at least Sept. 5. Louisiana, on the other hand, appears to be “proudly reinstituting and giving the impression — which is totally contradicted by reality — that the economy is doing great and it’s time for everybody to go back to work,” said Maurice Emsellem, program director at the National Employment Law Project, a labor-backed nonprofit workers rights group. “The federal government is giving the state a green light to waive ‘work search.’”
Don’t undershoot the stimulus
Negotiations in Washington continue over a new Covid relief package, that will likely cost somewhere between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. But as large as those price tags may seem, even the most generous package under consideration may be less than what’s needed to spur America’s economic recovery. As Politico’s Michael Grunwald explains, the 2009 recession should teach us that underfunding a recovery bill will drag out the nation’s economic pain:
Obama’s Recovery Act helped end the Great Recession and launch a decadelong recovery, but today even his former aides believe that the recovery was weaker and slower than it should have been because the stimulus was insufficient. There’s a broad consensus in the economics profession that despite the administration’s anxieties about undershooting, Washington still undershot. And now, in an even more severe crisis, it may be poised to undershoot again. “Once again, big picture, the risks of doing too little far outweigh the risks of doing too much,” Summers said in an interview. “This time, the hole is even bigger than it was in 2009, but I’m not sure that lesson has been learned.”
Food prices are rising; so is food insecurity
From factory closures to increases in home cooking, the coronavirus has squeezed America’s food supply chains. As a result, retail food prices are going up. For people who are out of work or working reduced hours—and particularly for those facing steep cuts to unemployment benefits—this means substantial strains on home budgets and spikes in food insecurity. The Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel reports on how higher grocery bills and an inadequate policy response to the pandemic and its recession are forcing families to go without:
Over the past few weeks, as the $600 benefit was set to expire, the North Texas Food Bank saw an uptick in families served by its emergency pantry, said Valerie Hawthorne, director of government relations. “We think those folks are preparing for what’s coming,” Hawthorne said. Hawthorne said she was particularly concerned about the elderly, since many seniors are only eligible for the minimum amount in SNAP benefits — which can be as low as $16 a month. Looking ahead to the fall, Hawthorne said parents will have to weigh the cost of child care vs. leaving their jobs to stay home and care for kids. “It could potentially be a perfect storm,” Hawthorne said. “You have to pay your rent or your mortgage. You have to make that car payment. But food can be negotiable.”
A frayed state safety net
For hundreds of thousands of Louisiana households facing hunger and possible eviction, Congressional action on a meaningful and adequate Covid relief package couldn’t come soon enough. But as Stephanie Grace argues in Nola.com | The Advocate, our state legislature also has plenty of work to do to repair the safety net that they’ve let fall into disrepair.
Congress isn’t taking care of business now, but the Louisiana Legislature has spent years looking the other way while the safety net has frayed, and the inadequate level of unemployment insurance is just one example. There’s also the Legislature’s failure to require paid sick leave, despite the clear lesson from the pandemic that people who can’t afford to take time off often show up to work while sick, and can infect others. … And there’s the Legislature’s long-running refusal to raise the minimum wage even the modest amount that Edwards has sought. His two victories, state polls, and the experiences of other conservative states all speak to the popularity of the idea, and higher wages would certainly give more people the ability to weather disaster. And yet, while lawmakers are right there when businesses seek relief, they’ve repeatedly rejected a minimum wage increase.
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Number of the Day
$17.48 – Hourly wage a person would need to earn in Louisiana to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. The state minimum wage wage remains $7.25 an hour. (Source: Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center)