The Covid-19 pandemic has shined an unwelcome light on the decades-long disinvestment in the public health systems that are supposed to protect the public during health emergencies. As overall health care costs have climbed, federal and state governments have neglected public health programs that often bring a great return on investment. The result is sluggish outreach, complicated vaccine rollout and a lack of planning. Micheal Ollove and Christine Vestal of Pew’s Stateline news service report:
A 2018 survey conducted by public health researchers found that only half of Americans live in an area with a full array of public health services. Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said she’s hopeful the pandemic will raise awareness in Congress and state capitols of the need for adequate and consistent public health funding. The pandemic exposed the consequences of the nation’s failure to invest in core public health functions that would have armed states and cities to combat the virus. At the same time, the disproportionate rates of illness and death among Black, Latino and Native American people laid bare the inadequacy of another essential public health function—addressing the social determinants of health, including poor access to health care, transportation and employment, and inferior housing.
The report follows research by LBP’s Stacey Roussell, who reported last year that Louisiana’s public health investments withered in the wake of the Great Recession:
In Louisiana, the Office of Public Health budget was cut repeatedly in annual and mid-year cuts following the Great Recession. In the five-year period between 2009 and 2014, nearly 500 positions were cut – about one- third of the workforce. Staffing levels today remain about where they were in 2014. Federal funding, which comprises the majority of the Office of Public Health budget, has increased modestly over time, but even with episodic increases in federal grants to combat outbreaks like the Zika virus and H1N1, combined state and federal funding remain below pre-recession levels. This means fewer dollars and fewer professional staff to fight chronic and communicable disease, ensure water and food supplies are safe for the public, manage public health data, and train and prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Biden’s executive orders bring some relief
President Joe Biden has rolled out dozens of executive orders during his first week, many aimed at bringing temporary relief to people who have suffered the most during the economic downturn. The orders include a moratorium on residential evictions that came as welcome news to people in New Orleans who are struggling to pay rent after losing their jobs during the pandemic. The Times – Picayune| Baton Rouge Advocate’s John Simerman reports:
Struggling tenants, parents and unemployed workers in the New Orleans area welcomed a spate of pandemic relief this week, including a new extension on a federal eviction moratorium through March, and a boost in food aid that President Joe Biden signed in an executive order on Friday. Local advocates praised the measures as badly needed stopgaps as Congress starts to weigh Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid proposal.
Simerman spoke with LBP’s Danny Mintz about a temporary boost to federal food assistance and why it’s needed:
Mintz described a surge in children going hungry since the pandemic began, based on U.S. Census surveys. He said data from September showed 40% of Louisiana children were considered “food insecure.” “Child hunger is exceptionally high right now. What this does is make sure hundreds of thousands of Louisianans are going to have an easier time keeping food on the table during a time a lot of them are facing unprecedented hardship,” he said.
Oil and gas supports the status quo
Critics of Louisiana’s tax structure have long complained that rates are too high, and that they could be lowered if policymakers were willing to get rid of some lucrative special-interest tax breaks, deductions and exemptions. That was the idea behind a recent LSU report that looked at the ways Louisiana taxes the oil and gas industry. Economists Greg Upton and Jim Richardson said Louisiana can lower the severance tax on oil production – and equalize the way oil and natural gas are taxed – if it were willing to forgo tax breaks like the one on horizontal drilling. As David Jacobs of The Center Square reports, oil and gas lobbyists aren’t happy. They want to keep their tax breaks while also lowering rates.
Under the proposal Upton presented, state tax breaks for drilling certain types of wells would be phased out, including one for horizontal drilling widely used in Louisiana’s highly productive Haynesville Shale natural gas play. Severance taxes for oil would be lowered to 6 percent, while the severance tax rate on natural gas would go up from 4 percent to 6 percent. … “Taxes are not the large driver of why people drill in one area relative to another” compared to geology and access to markets, he said. “It’s my opinion that having a more simple, broad-based low-rate system is going to be just fine for having activity into the future.” Mike Moncla, interim president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said he didn’t want to hurt the natural gas sector to help oil producers. He said Haynesville is the most productive natural gas play in the nation and is the only shale play in the country to add rigs over the past year, representing a rare bright spot for the state’s energy sector.
The facade of the Black Middle Class
Black men and women have been excluded from our economy generation after generation. Bold policies that focus on racial equity and end discrimnation and exploitation are needed to allow Black Americans the chance to prosper. Anne Helen Petersen explains in Vox how Black Americans have been shut out of economic stability:
Wealth begets wealth. It makes it easier to launch a business or take a career risk. It’s correlated with better health outcomes, lower child mortality, longer life expectancy: everything you’d expect from a solid home life and access to health care. Because of intersecting racist policies and practices — redlining, continued segregation in schools, hyper-surveillance and brutality by law enforcement, and the policing of Black bodies, just to start — wealth has been far more difficult for Black Americans to accumulate.
Number of the Day
720,000 – Estimated number of workers in Louisiana who would get a raise if Congress passes the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)