Housing crisis still looms even with assistance programs

Housing crisis still looms even with assistance programs

Mary Dubios is a New Orleans single mother of a 2-year-old who lost her job during the pandemic. She is behind on rent, faces court fines and late fees and has outstanding utility bills. While she was able to find some work, the burden of child care has made it difficult for her to recover financially. But some assistance is on the way in a form of a city rental assistance program, funded by the federal CARES Act. Chad Calder of the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate has more on the rental assistance program and how it could help: 

There have been a couple of other surprises as well. (Marjoriana) Willman (of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development) was expecting the average need would be about $5,000 but, thus far it has been about $2,000, which she attributed to people forgoing other needs as they tried not to fall too far behind on their rent. “Folks have forgone a lot of their essential needs to pay as much rent as possible and stay housed,” Willman said, noting the application includes a section where people can write about the specifics of their circumstances. Also, while the program allows both landlords and renters to apply, Willman said the response so far has been almost entirely from renters, at about 90%.

But as Pam Fessler of National Public Radio writes, even with rental assistance programs and eviction moratoriums, some Black families still face a crisis of evictions:

Recent Census surveys have found that the share of Black, Hispanic/LatinX and Asian renters behind on their rent is substantially higher than for White renters. A whopping 56 percent of black renters also say it’s likely they’ll have to leave their homes within the next two months because of eviction.

“Hunting season” for tax reform
Louisiana lawmakers return to the Capitol for a two-month session focused on restructuring Louisiana’s tax system. Louisiana’s top business lobby is focused on centralizing state sales-tax collections and finding new revenue to support infrastructure needs. But a battle also is brewing over the state income tax. Advocates across the political spectrum agree that Louisiana should eliminate the deductibility of federal income taxes on state returns – a tax break that mainly favors the wealthiest businesses and households. But there is little agreement on what to do with that revenue. Bill Decker writes in St. Mary Now

At the Louisiana Budget Project … Executive Director Jan Moller found little to argue with (LABI President Stephen) Waguespack about on sales tax centralization or even eliminating the federal income tax exemption for state income tax filers. “The difference is what you do with that revenue,” Moller said in a phone interview Wednesday. Tax reform shouldn’t be just a way to shift the tax burden to working people, Moller said. “The Legislature should not use the pandemic as an excuse to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy. … The pandemic has hit low-income workers the hardest, both from a health perspective and from a job perspective.”

No Natural Dignity in Work
The idea of providing additional benefits to families with children is gaining bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. President Joe Biden has proposed an historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit as part of his stimulus plan, and Sens. Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney have each proposed different ways to expand child benefits. But many conservatives remain suspicious of providing cash benefits to low-income families, claiming, erroneously, that such benefits undermine the dignity of work. Ezra Klein, writing in The New York Times, sets the record straight. 

The effect of child allowances on whether parents work is small, but their effects on child poverty are large — estimates suggest the Romney proposal would cut child poverty by a third, and the Biden plan by half. … But I want to consider the deeper question here: Even if a child allowance would lead some parents to drop out of the formal work force, would that be a bad thing? Forcing parents into low-wage, often exploitative, jobs by threatening them and their children with poverty may be counted as a success by some policymakers, but it’s a sign of a society that doesn’t value the most essential forms of labor. 

Student debt drives a mental health crisis
President Biden is facing pressure to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt to help Americans economically recover. The cancellation debate has centered around the economic benefits to people, but there are also significant health benefits to eliminating debt. Nicole Kralis writes in Salon about Randy Withers, 45, a former teacher who earned a graduate degree in mental health counseling yet sees little hope of ever paying back the $145,000 he owes in student debt: 

“It’s more of a long term slow-burn anxiety . . . it’s like a monster on your back that, you know, you just can’t get rid of. It’s not that I’m unwilling, I just lack the economic means to to pay it off,” Withers said. “I made these choices to go into school, I’m not blaming anybody, but it does take an emotional cost — it’s like carrying a mortgage for a house you don’t live in.” From a clinical perspective, he can see why people become depressed, anxious and even have suicidal ideation from having too much debt. 

Number of the Day
22.6 million – The number of adults who would be able to pay their expenses completely for four and a half months if the proposed $1,400 stimulus check is coupled with income from a job or unemployment benefits. (Source: CNBC)