Negotiating on Covid relief

Negotiating on Covid relief

President Joe Biden met with 10 Senate republicans on Monday, including Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, to hear their slimmed-down Covid-19 relief plan. The GOP’s $600 billion proposal is less than one-third of what the president is proposing to spend on economic relief. It includes smaller stimulus checks for fewer people, no aid for state and local governments and no federal minimum wage increase. Baton Rouge NBC Local 33’s Harrison Golden reports on the negotiations: 

“This is one of those debates that’s going to affect every single person in Louisiana for the foreseeable future,” said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project. “We are still in a time of national crisis. Congress still needs to step up and hopefully they can put politics aside.”

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has made poor people even poorer, according to a new report from the National Conference on Citizenship. In Louisiana, those most vulnerable to economic downturns often get little help from state government, making the need for a strong, robust federal relief package all the more important. The Illuminator’s JC Canicosa explains

During a pandemic that has put so many people out of work, Louisiana hasn’t been of much help for residents struggling to pay their bills.  During Louisiana’s first special session in June, Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) cited statistics that show that the maximum amount of unemployment benefits the state provides is the third-lowest in the country.  In July, Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said Louisiana’s “average weekly benefit of $216 is the lowest in the country when measured as a percentage of the median wage.”

A wrist-slap for polluters 
Louisiana has the highest toxic air emissions per square mile in the nation, and the state agency responsible for enforcing environmental regulations has done a poor job of holding polluters accountable. A state audit found that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality needs to do more to identify polluters that don’t properly report pollution and to enforce penalties for violations more aggressively. Pro Publica’s Mark Schleifstein reports

“Overall, we found DEQ could strengthen its monitoring and enforcement processes by identifying violations and issuing enforcement actions in a timelier manner,” Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said in a cover letter to the report. “As a result, there is a risk that facilities may have violations that remain uncorrected for years,” an audit summary said. “Best practices state that effective enforcement includes swift and predictable responses to violations.”

Black families mistrust safety of school reopenings 
Despite suffering more from the effects of remote learning, Black students are going back to in-person learning at a lower rate than their white counterparts. Many Black families’ skepticism of school reopenings stems from the disproportionate death rates that families of color have suffered from Covid-19 and from a deeper mistrust of the nation’s school districts that goes back decades. The New York Times’ Eliza Shapiro, Erica L. Green and Juliana Kim explain:  

Education experts and Black parents say decades of racism, institutionalized segregation and mistreatment of Black children, as well as severe underinvestment in school buildings, have left Black communities to doubt that school districts are being upfront about the risks. “For generations, these public schools have failed us and prepared us for prison, and now it’s like they’re preparing us to pass away,” said Sarah Carpenter, the executive director of Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group in Tennessee. “We know that our kids have lost a lot, but we’d rather our kids to be out of school than dead.”

While Covid-19 and the accompanying recession has hit Black and Brown families particularly hard, a recent a federal study finding that race and ethnicity data were missing from files on half of Covid-19 vaccine recipients suggests that tracking equity in vaccine distribution isn’t the priority it needs to be for the officials administering the vaccine. 

“We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority,” Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of President Biden’s covid-19 equity task force, said Monday during an administration coronavirus news briefing. “I’m worried about how behind we are. So, let me be clear: We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us.”

The Child Tax Credit would correct historical wrong 
For 30 years wealthy families have been able to claim more of the federal Child Tax Credit than poor families, leaving poor children with a partial credit or none at all. President Joe Biden hopes to rectify this historical wrong in the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan, which includes a plan to expand eligibility to children from families with very low incomes by making the credit fully refundable. Jenice Robinson and Meg Wiehe of the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy explain: 

[Biden’s] proposal temporarily increases the annual CTC from $2,000 to $3,000 per child with an additional $600 for each child under age six. More importantly, it allows all low- and moderate-income families, regardless of earnings, to claim the full credit even if it exceeds their income tax bill. In tax speak, this means Biden’s proposal makes the credit fully refundable. Practically, this means lower-income families with children will receive a much-needed income boost of as much as $3,600 per child. Expanding the credit (albeit temporarily) helps right the historical injustice of leaving poor children behind. President Biden’s CTC expansion would be financially meaningful for most families with children but especially for the poorest 20 percent of households, ITEP’s analysis shows. The average tax benefit for all families with children is $2,750. For the bottom 20 percent of households earning less than $21,300 a year, the average benefit is $4,570.

Number of the Day
$146 million – Amount of unspent federal stimulus money currently held by Louisiana public schools. (Source: The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate)