The Covid-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which has struggled to handle the massive spike in unemployment insurance claims. That has led to frustration for thousands of people who lost their jobs in the economic shutdown and have struggled to claim the paltry benefits they are owed. As WDSU’s Emily Lane and Greg LaRose report, long backlogs of claims, hour-long call wait times and high rates of staff turnover have led to frustration among Louisianans facing financial crises as their incomes disappeared and their savings dwindled:
A state lawmaker and activists for the state’s working class each sympathized with the stress the agency is under but questioned if more could have been done since the pandemic started. “The bottom line is that they were overwhelmed, and still to this day they are overwhelmed,” State Rep. Matthew Willard said. Willard has received calls from constituents waiting on claims who are on the verge of homelessness, who can’t buy groceries or pay for daycare, and he shares in their frustration, he said. “Ten months is enough time to figure out some of the wrinkles and better streamline the process,” said Williard.
An end to Medicaid work reporting requirements
Medicaid “work requirements” create unnecessary and burdensome barriers for people who need health care coverage, and often result in people losing coverage due to paperwork snafus even when they are otherwise eligible for coverage. On Friday, President Joe Biden will announce plans to rescind a Trump administration rule that gave states permission to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The rule will not affect Louisiana, where legislators have wisely rejected the idea. The Washington Post’s Dan Diamond and Amy Goldstein report:
Opponents of the policy, including most Democrats, counter that insurance that helps poor people to be healthy is a prerequisite to being able to work. Unlike the federal welfare system, which has required work since the mid-1990s, they argue, health coverage should be considered a right, not a privilege that is contingent on following other rules. In its planned announcement, the Biden administration said the requirements were especially unwise during the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened millions of Americans and forced many out of work. The agency overseeing Medicaid “has serious concerns that now is not the appropriate time to test policies that risk a substantial loss of health care coverage or benefits,” according to the draft plan.
Anti-racist policies spur growth
Lawmakers in Louisiana and many other states responded to the Great Recession by cutting spending on vital services and unnecessary tax cuts – policies that actually made things worse. Spending cuts accounted for nearly half of state responses to shortfalls between 2008 and 2012—three times as much as tax increases and five times as much as “rainy day” fund withdrawals, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States that cut taxes received no evident economic benefit compared to those without cuts or with tax increases. This time around, Louisiana’s lawmakers could do a lot better by investing in in policies to combat discrimination in the marketplace and to reverse the legacy of racist policy choices that continue to dampen Louisiana’s economic fortunes.
[T]he Great Recession and many policies states adopted in its aftermath worsened longstanding inequities based on race, ethnicity, or income. Between 2005 and 2009, the period during which the housing bubble burst and the recession occurred, the median Black household lost more than half its meager wealth and the median Hispanic household lost two-thirds of its wealth. Subsequent state actions that sharply increased college tuition, cut funding for schools, and weakened income supports like unemployment insurance and assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program added to the already extensive damage in Black and Latinx communities. And some states enacted policies that further constrained opportunities for immigrants. Further, some states cut taxes sharply for the wealthy and corporations, which primarily benefited white, affluent people, and some states and localities increased taxes and fees that fall hardest on those with the least ability to pay, which (along with cuts in public services) disproportionately harmed people of color.
Feds take on equitable vaccinations
President Joe Biden has procured enough vaccines for all Americans, but warns of the logistical hurdles ahead to successfully get the shots in all Americans’ arms by the end of the summer. Though the federal government under President Biden has taken a more focused approach to the vaccine rollout, problems remain in efforts to get needed doses to hard to reach populations. One key issue is ensuring racial equity in distributions of the vaccine. As Katie Rogers, Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere report in the New York Times, the federal government is tackling that challenge directly:
The White House announced this week that it was standing up five new inoculation centers, including three in Texas and two in New York that are specifically aimed at vaccinating people of color. The administration also said that it would aim to ship one million doses of vaccine to 250 federally supported community health centers in underserved neighborhoods. A new federal pharmacy vaccination program began this week.
Number of the Day
300,000 – Number of unemployment claims filed with the Louisiana Workforce Commission since the start of the pandemic that have not been paid. (Source: WDSU-TV investigation)