America’s public benefit programs, which are supposed to provide an economic and health safety net for people during difficult times, are often tailored to families with children. There is good reason for this, as kids are expensive to raise, and investments in young people can pay long-term dividends. But more than 100 million Americans are non-elderly adults without kids or severe disabilities. And nearly 1 in 8 of them live below the poverty line. For these people, benefit programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and refundable tax credits can be difficult or impossible to access. In a new report, Joseph Llobrera and Lauren Hall of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain what states and the federal government can do to strengthen these programs so they’re available for everyone who needs them.
These programs reach far fewer adults without children than the number who need such assistance; many non-elderly adults without children receive little or no assistance despite experiencing serious hardship. Cash aid provided through General Assistance was never substantial and continues to erode, and uneven coverage and restrictive policies limit the ability of various federal economic and health supports to adequately address needs like food, housing, and health care. Although economic security programs reduce the number of non-elderly adults with minor children in poverty by 40 percent, these programs reduce poverty by only 8 percent for non-elderly adults without minor children.
The changing federal workforce
The overall size of the federal government’s work force grew by 4% under former President Donald Trump. But several key agencies that serve the public, including the departments of Education, Labor and Interior experienced a significant decline in personnel and morale even as other agencies grew substantially. An analysis by The New York Times blames part of the attrition on Trump, while also pinpointing across-the-board budget caps enacted by Congress and signed into law by former President Barack Obama.
In sheer numbers, particularly for domestic-focused agencies like the departments of Education and of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Trump didn’t drive as much attrition as across-the-board budget caps known as sequestration did. Those caps, enacted in a 2011 budget deal between President Obama and a Republican-led Congress and primarily taking effect between 2013 and 2017, led to hiring freezes and unfilled positions. But researchers, union officials and federal workers say President Trump’s politicization of normally neutral positions and frequent criticism of his own bureaucracy hurt the public’s faith in government, the morale of employees who remain, and the prospects that a new generation will enter public service.
Vaccinating in rural areas
The effort to make sure enough Louisianans get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 would be challenging under the best of circumstances. Vaccine shortages and the reluctance of many people to accept a new vaccine present major hurdles for public officials. But as The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s David Mitchell reports, officials have another set of problems when it comes to inoculating people in rural areas, where the same policy neglect that leaves people stranded in rural poverty is complicating vaccination efforts:
Those parishes are having to take a different approach than more densely-populated ones. Assumption Parish, for example, doesn’t have a local, stand-alone pharmacy to offer vaccines. Poor, elderly populations can have limited familiarity with or access to the internet to sign up. And some people have limited transportation to receive the vaccine, local government and medical officials said. Facing those hurdles, some parishes, are hustling to find places to distribute doses. In spread-out and isolated St. Helena, for example, parish officials are looking at the parish’s fire stations as potential sites.
Louisiana workers need a raise
President Joe Biden wants Congress to raise the federal minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 per hour for 12 years – to $15 an hour by 2025. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute finds that this would do relatively little to help workers in states like Connecticut and Massachusetts, where most workers already earn above that threshold. But in states like Louisiana, it would have a profound effect, with 39% of workers in some congressional districts getting a raise as a result.
EPI research shows that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would lift pay for nearly 32 million workers across the country—that’s 21% of the U.S. workforce. The increases would provide an additional $107 billion in wages for the country’s lowest-paid workers, with the average affected worker who works year-round receiving an extra $3,300 a year.
Number of the Day
$262 million – Amount of money distributed by a small-business grant program created by the Legislature last year using federal Covid-19 relief funding. Most of the money in the program, administered by Treasurer John Schroder, went to businesses owned by women, racial minorities and veterans. (Source: The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate)