A piece of a smaller pie

A piece of a smaller pie

Early in the pandemic, experts predicted that without significant help from the federal government, state and local governments would be forced to cut essential services in the face of declining revenues. Now, with Senate Republicans showing no urgency on additional Covid-19 aid, those cuts are beginning. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell released a draft 2021 budget – the city’s first that responds to the harsh economic conditions of the pandemic – that includes a deep $92 million cut to the city’s general fund and the loss of nearly 300 public jobs. Michael Isaac Stein of The Lens has the story

The state received a total of $1.8 billion in relief funds from the Act. Initially, Governor John Bel Edwards planned to use $800 million of that for relief for municipal governments. But a bill pushed by Republicans in the legislature, and signed by Edwards, ended up diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of that money to a program that gives grants to some small businesses in the state. The result was that municipalities were trying to get a piece of a much smaller pie. “We submitted well over $200 million of qualified expenditures, and we received just under $60 million,” (New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert) Montaño said. 


Federal policy impacts on communities
Rule changes to federal programs rarely make headlines. But they can have a major impact on families and communities – especially those of color – by removing consumer protections, erecting barriers to access and determining how funding flows to vital government programs. By the same token, federal regulation can make vital programs more accessible to those they serve. Olivia Paschal of Facing South interviews Calandra Davis of Mississippi’s Hope Policy Institute on how the regulatory choices of President Donald Trump’s administration have put the communities she serves at a disadvantage:  

One thing that we have been looking at at Hope Policy Institute is the Office of the Comptroller of Currency’s ruling around predatory lending. This is a federal ruling that would allow online predatory lenders into the state, and it impacts mostly poor Mississippians. Something else that’s really important is the disparate impact ruling [a recently adopted Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy that makes it harder to challenge systemic racism by housing providers]. Again this is on the federal level, but it trickles down to Mississippians, because Mississippi is one of the top states with the number of people who are facing evictions right now. Recently the Disparate Impact Rule was stripped from the Fair Housing Act, which then makes it harder for us to have affordable housing within the state.


Hardship is on the rise
The Covid-19 economic downturn has jeopardized the economic security of millions of American families. One in 4 adults report a worse financial situation in September than in March – and the numbers are more extreme for families of color and those who were already struggling at or near the federal poverty line, according to a new report by Michael Karpman, Stephen Zuckerman and Genevieve M. Kenney of the Urban Institute. While temporary federal aid blunted the pandemic’s early economic harm, without more congressional action, the worst is still ahead for many families. Bill Lucia of Route Fifty analyzes the implications of more stalling on Covid aid:

The new survey findings show that 60% of adults in households suffering job losses since March reported that their families had cut back spending on food, while about 45% have spent all or most of their savings and about four in 10 have taken on more credit card debt. As households struggle, there likely will be an increased demand for safety net programs at a time when state and local government budgets are getting stretched by declines in tax revenues and unplanned spending related to public health. The findings that some households are depleting savings and taking on high-interest credit card debt to get through the pandemic also adds to troubling questions about the long-term financial harm that the pandemic will leave behind even after the virus wanes.


Hurricane hardship
As hurricane Zeta bears down on Louisiana, many Lake Charles residents are still struggling to recover as they return to uninhabitable living conditions. Now, while the state winds down its hotel-based shelters, 1,300 people have been given notice to return home. Sam Karlin of Nola.com | The Advocate reports on how this policy is impacting families, and how going back to damaged housing is especially difficult for those with fewer resources: 

Damage to the home on 8th Street in Lake Charles that Wendell Jones shares with his wife and three sons was not as severe as others in the battered city. But mold had taken over the walls and ceiling to the closet in his bedroom, and one of his son’s rooms reeked of mold. After being told by the state to return home to live in the house, Jones said he and his wife, who suffers from congestive heart failure and asthma, went to their daughter’s house nearby. Despite the state’s instructions, he said, the landlord ordered them to vacate the house for three months so it could be cleaned out.

Public Service Announcement: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has extended the deadline to register for federal assistance due to Hurricane Laura to Friday, November 27. To register, call FEMA at 800-621-3362, sign up at disasterassistance.gov or visit a disaster recovery center.


Programming Note:
Join us on today for the launch of A Portrait of Louisiana 2020, the latest human development report by Measure of America, a program of the Social Science Research Council, presented in partnership with the Louisiana Budget Project and the LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs! A presentation of the report’s key findings by Measure of America’s Director Kristen Lewis will be followed by a panel discussion on the report’s implications for the state’s road to recovery, moderated by Jan Moller, Executive Director, Louisiana Budget Project. Register here


Number of the Day
28.2% – The share of Black adults reporting food insecurity in September. White adults reported food insecurity at a rate of 14.7%. (Source: Urban Institute’s Coronavirus Tracking Survey)