Shots in Arms and Money in Pockets

Shots in Arms and Money in Pockets

The American Rescue Plan is reshaping debates in statehouses across the country from the battles over difficult and harmful budget cuts that many expected earlier in the pandemic to questions about where and how states can make new investments. The story is the same in Baton Rouge. While lawmakers debate and hard-hit families welcome much-needed aid, we should remember that Covid didn’t create Americans’ widespread experiences with hardship and poverty — it made long-standing problems worse. Sharon Parrott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained why such a significant rescue package was needed in one of the wealthiest nations on earth in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs: 

While the American Rescue Plan Act, along with the relief measures of 2020, will provide substantial help to tens of millions of people who are struggling to make ends meet and access health care during this crisis, we should ask why such large-scale stopgap measures were needed in the first place. The reason is clear: COVID-19 and its economic fallout have exposed glaring weaknesses in our economy and our public policies that leave too many people unprotected in bad times and too many unable to fully benefit in good times. 

A full breakdown of the much needed rescue dollars coming to Louisiana’s local and state governments and people and communities hardest hit by the pandemic is available from LBP’s Jackson Voss

Burdensome and redundant red tape
Louisiana provides a modest bump to low-income families through the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which is pegged at 5% of the federal credit. The extra boost can make a big difference, especially amid pandemic-induced job losses and extra expenses. But House Bill 61 by state Rep. Valarie Hodges would create more red tape for qualified families, making it harder for them to access the credit. The bill requires families to document U.S. residency for the dependents they claim, a burdensome duplication of existing IRS requirements. Wesley Muller of Louisiana Illuminator reports

“We believe that the bill is a thinly veiled effort to bolster anti-immigrant sentiment and validate the belief that undocumented workers are unfairly drawing on governmental benefits to which they are not entitled,” said Andrea Agee, staff attorney at Loyola Law’s Workplace Justice Project, an organization that fights for fair wages for the immigrant community and against employers who try to steal their wages. “Beyond that, the bill is unnecessary, as undocumented individuals are already barred from receiving the EITC as it requires the taxpayer to be a U.S. Citizen or a resident alien (for the entire year) with a social security number.” 

Jim Crow’s Last Stand
Louisiana voters righted a historic wrong in 2018 when they abolished the state’s non-unanimous jury law, a remnant of a racist judicial practice that resulted in the over-incarceration of Black men. But the work of undoing racial bias in our criminal justice system is not done. Federal courts in Louisiana are still using jury practices that disadvantage Black defendants. Thomas Aiello writes in The Advocate | that the jury pool in the Eastern District of Louisiana chronically underrepresents the Black population, and the corrective actions taken to date are woefully insufficient: 

The Eastern District responded to these disparities by modifying its selection process to include driver’s licenses as a jury list source, but that change intentionally omits identification cards often used by poor citizens who don’t drive, despite the fact that those registrations are housed in the same databases as driver’s licenses. The court also decided to reseed the Qualified Wheel every two years instead of every four, but if those seedings are fundamentally biased, replicating them more often will not fix the dilemma.

Meanwhile in Georgia, a new law creates barriers for voters by requiring a driver’s license number for absentee ballots. An estimated 200,000 registered Georgia voters don’t have a driver’s license. 

Red light on gas tax proposal
Louisiana has a $15 billion backlog of transportation infrastructure projects, as anyone who regularly drives our state’s roads can attest. But the state gasoline tax – which funds road projects – hasn’t budged since 1990 and has lost more than half of its purchasing power since then. Rep. Jack McFarland had been hoping to change that with an ambitious plan to raise the gas tax by 22 cents per gallon by 2033. But with the influx of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan McFarland has scrapped that idea, using one-time federal funding as an excuse to keep doing the same thing while hoping for different results. Melinda Deslatte reports for The Associated Press reports: 

Rather than the tax increase, McFarland said he’ll propose moving all the current gas tax revenue to projects and prohibiting it from being spent on transportation department administration — a shift that would require lawmakers to find other dollars to pay for agency operations. He’ll propose fee increases for the department to help cover some of those administrative costs and seek to earmark all vehicle sales taxes to the agency, stripping the dollars from other state spending areas.

Number of the Day
53 – The number of consecutive weeks in which the total initial unemployment claims were greater than the second-worst week of the Great Recession. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)