The $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits that were helping more than 450,000 jobless Louisianans – many with little or no savings to fall back on – have officially expired. Unless Congress can agree on a new round of relief funding to replace those payments, help state and local governments plug budget holes and shore up public school funding, things will soon get much worse. Nola.com | The Baton Rouge Advocate’s Bryn Stole reports:
The now-expired $600 federal boost to benefits injected a total of as much as $270 million each week into the Louisiana economy. “It’s an enormous income loss that has started now,” said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning nonprofit that advocates for working Louisiana families. “There are not half a million jobs for people to go back to. Not even remotely close.”
Congressional leaders and administration officials negotiated throughout the weekend, but The New York Times’ Emily Cochrane reports that the sides remain far apart on several key issues. Democrats remain united behind a $3 trillion relief measure passed months ago, but Republicans are in disarray.
(A)t least 20 Senate Republicans are unlikely to support any additional spending, party leaders have acknowledged, in part because of concerns over the level of spending and its effect on the national debt. Under a $1 trillion plan Republicans unveiled on Monday — a narrower proposal than the Democrats’ plan — a number of provisions, including the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit, would be severely curtailed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ top priority seems to be the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which had a $1.1 billion balance before the pandemic but is now scheduled to run out of cash by mid-September. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
Draining the trust fund doesn’t stop benefits flowing to unemployed Louisiana workers. But it will trigger undesirable spillover effects as the state and national economies are struggling. Weekly benefit payments will drop in a state that already has one of the lowest unemployment payouts in the country. Taxes charged on businesses to finance the payments will grow higher, even as many businesses are struggling because of the pandemic. And Louisiana will have to borrow money from the federal government to keep paying benefits, which is expected to be repaid through surcharges on businesses.
Fighting back against environmental racism
Black Americans, regardless of income levels, are exposed to higher levels of pollution than white people, which makes them more likely to suffer from pollution-related ailments such as asthma and heart disease. But Black people have often been excluded from the mainstream environmental movement. That’s starting to change in communities like the Grays Ferry neighborhood in South Philadelphia, where people are waking up to the health threats posed by a nearby refinery. The New York Times’ Linda Villarosa reports:
The community of Grays Ferry, still more Southern than Northern, is full of people bound together by history, memories, struggle, dreams, blood, love and death. These residents may have landed there because of options limited by the structural discrimination created by redlining. But even as they pray for the sick and count their dead, they have stayed.
Closer to home, activists are fighting efforts by Formosa Plastics to build a plant in St. James Parish. Jane Patton, with the Center for International Environmental Law, along with Sharon Lavigne and Gail LeBouf of Rise St. James, explain in a letter to The Advocate:
Chemicals released by Formosa into communities — like ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride — are known to cause some of the very illnesses that make people more susceptible to COVID-19. Black communities in Louisiana have been dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than other groups, partly because of exposure to higher levels of environmental toxins.
A frayed federal block grant
It’s been a quarter century since then-President Bill Clinton signed a law ending “welfare as we know it” by replacing the federal guarantee of cash assistance for poor families with a federal block grant that states could spend on a variety of priorities. Jenni Bergal, reporting for Pew’s Stateline, found that the transformation has largely failed the poor people it purported to help.
(O)ver time, instead of focusing on helping low-income people get jobs, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the program that replaced federal welfare assistance) has devolved into a kind of candy store that many states are raiding to plug budget holes and pay for programs that have little to do with moving poor people into the workforce, a Stateline investigation has found. … And at a time when tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to be tougher than ever for TANF parents to find work that will lift them out of poverty, advocates for low-income families say.
Lagging on election planning
More than two dozen advocacy organizations (including LBP), led by the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, are asking Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to develop a plan for the November elections that allows maximum participation by voters amid the Covid-19 emergency. Jarvis DeBerry reports for the Illuminator:
The letter writers cite a previous report from Ardoin’s office that 30 percent more votes were cast in the July 2020 election than July 2016. “Still, some voters were left without means of participating with the confidence of safety,” they write, “because the qualifications to vote by mail did not cover all voters at risk of contracting COVID-19 (indeed, all voters). Other voters who would have qualified under the Emergency Election Plan did not become symptomatic in time to request a ballot by the deadline. Many voters never received their ballot, nor were they provided with any remedies to participate other than showing up in person, putting their own health, and the health of their communities, at risk on Election Day.”
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 Policy Advocate position. The application period closes Aug. 10.
Number of the Day
11.71% – Percentage of mortgages in Louisiana that are past due, the second-highest rate in the nation behind Mississippi. The national average is 7.6%. (Source: Black Knight via The Advocate)