The lame-duck session

The lame-duck session

Congress returns to work this week for one last attempt at passing a long-delayed Covid-19 relief package. The debate comes four months after additional federal unemployment benefits expired for millions of Americans laid off during the pandemic, and as the country endures another spike in coronavirus cases that has led to new restrictions on business activity. The AP’s Andrew Taylor has a helpful rundown of what’s to come: 

The only absolute must-do business is preventing a government shutdown when a temporary spending bill expires on Dec. 11. The route preferred by top lawmakers like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is to agree upon and pass an omnibus spending bill for the government. But it may be difficult to overcome bitter divisions regarding a long-delayed COVID-19 relief package that’s a top priority of business, state and local governments, educators and others. Time is working against lawmakers as well, as is the Capitol’s emerging status as a COVID-19 hotspot. The House has truncated its schedule, and Senate Republicans are joining Democrats in forgoing the in-person lunch meetings that usually anchor their workweeks. 

With Congress continuing its deadlock over Covid-19 relief, Axios reports that states across the country are taking matters into their own hands. New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin and Minnesota are among the states where legislators are debating relief legislation that would steer money to cash-strapped households. 

 

Medicaid strained in pandemic
In the absence of additional federal aid, the Covid-19 economic crisis has led to predictable strains on state governments across the country, which are seeing lower-than-expected tax revenue as the demand for services has increased. Congress helped mitigate some of the costs by temporarily increasing Medicaid’s federal match rate by 6.2% and requiring states to keep people who were enrolled in Medicaid before the pandemic on the insurance program’s rolls. But the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Armour reports that some states are already weighing cuts to their programs for the fiscal year that starts in July. 

Some state leaders may try to narrow the gap between the revenues they need to balance the budget and the shortfalls they face by cutting vision and dental benefits, or payments to doctors and other providers. Cuts to other programs, such as education, could also be in the mix. … The Medicaid burden on state budgets will pose a challenge for President-elect Joe Biden, who wants to expand Medicaid and reduce the number of uninsured people in the U.S. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a politically divided Congress faces pressure to further increase federal matching funds to states, a proposal that Mr. Biden has also said he would support.

Medicaid enrollment in Louisiana has jumped by more than 190,000 people since November 2019, with the biggest increases coming among low-income adults enrolled through Medicaid expansion. 

 

Desegregation at 50
Fifty years ago – and 16 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated public schools are unconstitutional – East Baton Rouge Parish made its first real attempt to desegregate its school system. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports that the effort has met with mixed results, at best, as White families fought the efforts by fleeing to neighboring parishes and establishing new private schools. 

In fall 1970, following a judge’s order, East Baton Rouge Parish erased school boundary lines that had largely kept Black children and White children from attending classes together. New “unified” lines produced many racially mixed “neighborhood schools,” or at least as mixed as various parts of the city could produce. That’s all a distant memory now. Very few schools of any kind in East Baton Rouge have a racially mixed student body. The urban public schools are almost all Black or minority, while private and suburban public schools are mostly White.

 

People need housing help
Congress acted quickly last spring to ensure that vulnerable renters were able to stay in their homes even if they lost their job in the pandemic, while homeowners with federally-backed mortgages received forbearance. But those protections are set to expire soon. The Urban Institute’s Jim Parrott and Moody’s Mark Zandi, writing in The Washington Post, lay out a menu of solutions, including a major increase in support for rental housing: 

One efficient way to [scale up federal support for affordable rental housing] is to convert a small, temporary fee being charged on mortgages to cover the payroll tax cut of 2011 into a permanent one that funds housing programs. This change would raise more than $50 billion over the next decade and could be used in part to expand the Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund, programs designed to increase the number of affordable homes for rent.

 

Number of the Day
$3.65 billion – Revenue that Louisiana expects to collect from individual income taxes in the current fiscal year – more than the entire state general fund appropriation for public education. Shreveport Rep. Thomas Pressly wants to eliminate the income tax and believes, falsely, that the revenue loss can be made up via “growth.” (Source: Revenue Estimating Conference)