America needs more relief

America needs more relief

The bipartisan Covid-19 relief bill passed in December provides substantial, urgently needed relief for struggling people. But the December bill only provides enough relief to get families – and the economy – through the next few months. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chad Stone explains how a troubling December jobs report is more proof that Congress will need to pass additional relief and stimulus measures – like fiscal relief to states – for America to fully recover from the pandemic-induced recession. 

Another tried-and-true stimulus measure — fiscal relief to states so that they do not have to cut program spending or jobs to meet their balanced budget requirements — was left out of the end-of-year package entirely. This provision should be in the next package and should remain in effect until the recovery is firmly in place and reaching lower-income households, which will likely take longer to emerge from this crisis and see their earnings fully recover (and their debt burden reduced). For instance, Goldman Sachs projects that labor income of the people in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, such as those working in low-wage service sector jobs, will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022. Even then, many will have substantial debt that they incurred struggling to pay their bills during the period of lost income.

The Louisiana Revenue Estimating Conference – a four-member panel that determines how much money the state can spend each year – is scheduled to meet on Jan. 19 to update the revenue forecast for next year. This will provide the first official tally of the shortfalls we face in the 2021-22 fiscal year. 

Medicaid block grant moves forward in Tennessee
The outgoing Trump administration has approved a plan by Tennessee to receive its Medicaid allotment in a block grant. This arrangement abandons Medicaid’s historic commitment to quality, affordable care for low-income people and creates new financial risks for states. Twenty one patient and consumer groups voiced their concerns over the administration’s reckless move. 

“Our organizations have clearly and repeatedly voiced our deep concerns with Tennessee’s proposal, as well as our strong opposition to block grants in Medicaid in general. Per capita caps and block grants are designed to cap or limit the amount of federal funding provided to states, forcing them to either make up the difference with their own funds or make cuts to their programs reducing access to care for the patients we represent. Program cuts will likely result in enrollment limits, benefit reductions, reductions in provider payments or increased out-of-pocket cost-sharing for Medicaid enrollees. The approval specifically includes authority to limit prescription drug coverage, a dangerous proposal for patients.

Covid-19 vaccine update
Louisiana announced on Monday that the state is increasing both the number of vaccines available to people 70 and older and the number of facilities where shots can be received to include all 64 parishes in the state.  Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press reports:

Louisiana was expected to have received more than 293,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines by the end of this week, according to Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser. Edwards has pledged to improve the pace of vaccinations, saying he was not pleased with the speed of getting shots in arms across the first month of the vaccine rollout.

Meanwhile, the White House is planning to announce a rework of its vaccine rollout plan to get it to more Americans. Axios reports

The federal government is making three big changes, according to a senior administration official:

  • Recommending that states open the vaccination process to everyone older than 65 and to adults of all ages who have a pre-existing condition that puts them at greater risk for serious infection.
  • Expanding the venues where people can get vaccinated to include community health centers and more pharmacies.
  • Getting all the available doses out the door now. Both of the authorized vaccines require two shots; the government will no longer hold back doses for the second shot, but will instead try to get today’s doses into people’s arms now, trusting that supplies will increase rapidly enough to provide second shots.

President-elect Joe Biden will be announcing his incoming administration’s vaccination plan on Thursday. Politico’s Adam Cancryn and Tyler Pager have more

“My number one priority is getting the vaccine to people’s arms as we just did today as rapidly as we can, and we’re working on that program now,” Biden told reporters after getting his vaccine. He added: “It’s going to be hard. It’s not going to be easy, but we can get it done.”

Game change for high school students 
Louisiana education leaders are launching a program that will allow high school students to earn college credits or take part in an apprenticeship program. The “Fast Forward” program would be available to juniors and seniors and proponents say it would help students prepare for college or a career after high school and avoid the “wasted” senior year. The Advocate’s Will Sentell has the details of the new program. 

The plan would give students three options that would drastically change their third and fourth years of high school. One would allow students who pursue a career and technical education diploma – called Jump Start – to earn a technical associate degree on college campuses with courses that also earn them high school credits. Another option would let students who plan to attend a four-year university earn an associate degree that would allow them to start college as juniors. The third path would let students pursue an apprenticeship approved by the Louisiana Workforce Commission that would put them on the path to a substantive job after high school. The ninth and 10th grades would remain largely unchanged – students taking core academic classes for meeting their high school diploma requirements.

Number of the Day
8.7% – The high-end estimate of America’s population growth rate for the next decade. Even this high estimate would be the slowest growth in the nation’s population since the 1930s. America’s population overall is aging as people are having fewer babies. (Source: Axios)