Louisiana consistently ranks among the poorest states in America – both overall and among our children. Poverty and lack of opportunity is particularly acute in the Northeast part of the state, and the pandemic has only made matters worse. Louisiana can and should prioritize these hard-hit areas, which are least able to absorb the harsh blow of a pandemic-induced recession. Investments in expanded broadband internet and increased access to transportation along with establishing a statewide minimum wage that’s higher than the federal minimum should be priorities, according to Jan Moller, LBP executive director, and Kristen Lewis, director of Measure of America in a guest column in Louisiana Illuminator:
Our new research on Louisiana shows that the 10 parishes with the lowest levels of well-being are all made up of small towns and rural areas, mostly clustered in the northeast. Three of those parishes – Catahoula, Morehouse, and East Carroll – have the shortest life expectancies in the state and all have poverty rates above 20 percent. Nearly three quarters of children in East Carroll Parish live in households below the poverty line – the highest percentage of any parish. In five rural parishes in the northeast more than half the households have no internet access.
Congress must act now to shore up our safety net
It has been 18 weeks since Senate Republicans allowed the $600 unemployment weekly benefit to expire, leaving millions of working people and their families wondering how they will make ends meet. In the midst of the holiday season, another deadline is looming. Unless Congress acts, critical pandemic safety net provisions – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – will expire on Dec. 26. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute has the numbers:
The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that a total of 13.4 million workers were on PUA (8.9 million) or PEUC (4.6 million) during the week ending November 14. When these programs expire, millions of these workers and their families will be financially devastated. A paper from The Century Foundation finds that 12 million workers will lose PUA or PEUC benefits when they expire on December 26—on top of the 4.4 million who will have exhausted them before then. It also finds that only 2.9 million will then be eligible for Extended Benefits. That means a total of 13.5 million workers (12.0 million + 4.4 million – 2.9 million) will have lost CARES Act unemployment benefits by the end of the year with nothing to fill in the gap.
For years, many Louisiana inmates have languished behind bars beyond their lawful release dates, keeping families from reuniting and costing the state millions of dollars in delayed releases. The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections’ (DOC) release procedures to figure out why it can’t handle simple math. Jacqueline DeRobertis of The Advocate has the story, including the need for greater investments in our criminal justice system to fully deliver on the promise of reform:
At the time, civil rights attorneys — who represent clients who said they were over-detained — estimated that Louisiana inmates have been held past their release dates for a collective total of more than 3,000 years since 2012, costing the state millions. The time calculation process, which (DOC Secretary Jimmy) LeBlanc likened to “herding cats,” also involves an antiquated system for transferring paperwork from one agency to another, often requiring records to be physically driven across the state for hand delivery. And many of Louisiana’s inmates are housed in local jails in addition to state prisons, which means DOC officials must rely on parish-by-parish cooperation to gather the necessary paperwork.
Preserving pandemic voting access
A record-setting 65 million Americans voted by mail on Election Day this year – higher than the number who voted in person. The success of the election – both in terms of participation and security – have sparked interest in preserving these gains beyond the pandemic. Though looming pandemic-related budget shortfalls, competing priorities and a raging pandemic threaten momentum, interest remains as a growing number of states introduce legislation. Matt Vasilogambros of Route Fifty has the story, including a bipartisan approach that has won support in Kentucky:
Working with the state legislature this year, (Kentucky Secretary of State Michael) Adams is proposing measures that would establish an online absentee ballot request portal, create a process to fix mistakes on absentee ballots, replace the state’s precinct-level polling places with fewer but larger vote centers, and make early voting permanent. He met with the governor and leaders in the legislature this week to discuss the proposals and said there’s already support among GOP leaders. “It never occurred to me to make it permanent,” Adams said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of legislators and local officials who like it. When you make the rules outcome-neutral, voters on both sides love that.”
Publishing note: The Daily Dime is taking its annual December hiatus. We will return to your inboxes on Jan. 4.
Number of the Day
245,000 – Number of jobs created in November. The U.S. labor market remains 10 millions jobs below pre-pandemic levels. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)