A cold shoulder for unemployed Louisianans

A cold shoulder for unemployed Louisianans

State unemployment benefits – plus the additional $600 weekly federal unemployment payments that expired in July – were an economic lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana workers laid off during the pandemic. Now, with the federal benefits slashed in half and soon to run out again and Senate Republicans dragging their feet on additional relief, those workers are facing grim prospects. This week, some of those workers got a new and terrible surprise: letters from the Louisiana Workforce Commission demanding they repay some or all of the money they’ve received. WBRZ-TV’s Brittany Weiss interviews Katherine Stephens, a worker laid off from her job at the Legislature in April who is now being asked to send nearly $14,000 or an appeal to LWC within 15 days, and who has gotten no answers from the agency about why this is happening.

Turns out, she’s not alone. Two On Your Side has heard from multiple people who received letters this week from the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Many of them are being told they owe thousands of dollars back to the state. Like Stephens, they have questions that haven’t been answered. “I can’t get anyone on the phone to find out if this is a glitch in the computer software, I have no idea,” Stephens said. “The hardest part is just not having anyone respond, so I can’t get any information from anyone about what the problem is.”


Pandemic policy failures are forcing low-wage students out of college
College enrollment tends to grow during recessions, as jobless people seek out new skills and credentials. But the pandemic recession is different. With classes now largely online and Covid-19 transmission a significant concern for in-person classes, many people with low incomes are finding that the college plans they made before the virus are now out of reach. As Heather Long reports in The Washington Post, fears of catching the virus, economic hardship and the practical challenges of low-wage life such as inadequate broadband access are cutting low-income college students off from their education.

When he saw students huddled outside a Sheetz convenience store trying to do their virtual classes on the store’s WiFi network, John J. “Ski” Sygielski, president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, realized just how much help his school would have to provide low-income students if they were to make it through the fall semester. Like many schools, HACC is predominantly holding virtual classes this fall. Sygielski’s team has given out hundreds of computers to needy students and “close to 400” hotspots, but he fears too many students will just give up on higher education as they see family members getting sick with covid-19, losing jobs and struggling to eat.


For millions, not enough to eat
Before the pandemic, roughly 8 million American adults reported that people in their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat. During Covid, however, the number of Americans going hungry has exploded: Researchers estimate that 26-29 million American adults live in households where people are sometimes or often not getting enough food because they just can’t afford it. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach details the situation in a new report for the Food Research and Action Center.

This is not a problem limited to certain populations or regions. Approximately 1 in 5 Black and Latinx adults say they do not have enough to eat, as do 1 in 14 white and Asian adults. In the vast majority of states more than 1 in 10 adults with children don’t have enough to eat. Most have been pushed into this state by job loss. Many others are still employed, but have lost hours or earnings, as well as other supports, which have pushed them into hunger. Across the board, those with children are more likely to not have enough to eat. … Congress should, without delay, act to increase maximum SNAP benefits by 15 percent and extend P-EBT payments, so that fewer people in America will go without enough to eat.

The need for a federal response — boosting SNAP benefits, restoring unemployment payments, supporting state and local governments and providing housing assistance — could scarcely be more urgent. Call your senators at (202) 224-3121 to urge them to pass meaningful Covid relief legislation now.


Raise the wage
A key demand of the 1963 March on Washington was a federal minimum wage that would keep all full-time workers out of poverty, increasing racial and economic equity and raising living standards overall. Adjusted for inflation, the marchers’ demands are nearly equal to the $15 wage floor advocated by the Fight for 15 movement. During the pandemic, with workers’ bargaining power eroded by high unemployment, a living wage is more important than ever. Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt of the Economic Policy Institute explain why raising the minimum wage now will give workers much-needed bargaining power during the pandemic recession.

That the wage targets of Fight for $15 and the 1963 March on Washington are similar is more than coincidental, given that both movements have as a core principle the elimination of poverty wages. A comparison of wage income and necessary expenses for families shows that anything less than $15 per hour will not fulfill the purpose of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the minimum wage “to protect this Nation from the evils and dangers resulting from wages too low to buy the bare necessities of life.”


Live event Sept. 22: Racism: Dismantling the System
The LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, in partnership with Southern University’s Nelson Mandela College of Government and Social Sciences, the Louisiana Budget Project, NAACP Louisiana State Conference and LSU Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion is hosting an ongoing series titled Racism: Dismantling the System.

The inaugural episode, focusing on the history of racism and its deep-seated effects within the United States will be live online on September 22 from 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. CST. Panelists include

  • Dr. Michael McClanahan, NAACP Louisiana State Conference, President, Moderator 
  • Dr. Laura Adderly, Tulane University, Associate Professor, Department of History 
  • Dr. Cassandra Chaney, Louisiana State University School of Social Work, J. Franklin Bayhi Endowed Professor 
  • Dr. Andrew Jolivétte, UC San Diego Professor, Chair, Department of Ethnic Studies & Director Native American and Indigenous Studies 
  • Dr. Albert Samuels, Southern University Nelson Mandela College of Government & Social Sciences, Jewel L. Prestage-Kellogg Professor of Political Science and Chair, Department of Political Science and History 

The event will be held virtually via zoom and will be live-streamed. Click here to register for the event.


Number of the Day
$50 trillion – The amount of income transferred to the wealthiest 1% of Americans from the rest of American workers since 1975, due to worsening income inequality. Researchers estimate that a widening income gap is costing the median-earning American worker $42,000 a year, compared to what they would have earned if income inequality had remained constant over time. (Source: The RAND Corporation, via Time Magazine)