The ACA turns 11

The ACA turns 11

Tuesday marks 11 years since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Despite numerous attempts to kill the bill, the landmark health care law is still expanding. People who lost their health insurance during the pandemic are flocking to sign up for health insurance – more than 200,000 during the first two weeks of the open enrollment period – and deeply conservative states like Alabama and Wyoming are considering expanding their Medicaid programs. The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg looks at the challenges President Joe Biden faces as he tries to expand the law. 

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden is facing pressure from the left. Last week, progressives introduced legislation to create what they call “Medicare for all,” a single-payer, government-run insurance program that has been embraced by Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. Interest among Democrats appears to be growing; a majority of the caucus now backs the bill, and several moderates have recently signed on as sponsors, including Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure. 

Click here for a chart book from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, detailing the ACA’s accomplishments. 

Disagreements on Covid relief 
With new federal aid on the way, some Louisiana senators are wary about using short-term federal stimulus to cover recent gaps in the state budget. While the state’s tax collections have rebounded, they haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and lawmakers in the upper chamber worry that state revenue won’t fully recover to replace expiring federal aid in the coming years. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, meanwhile, argues that state tax revenue is likely to return to normal as the economy bounces back from Covid-19. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports on the disagreement between members of the Senate Finance Committee and the state’s top budget official:  

(Gov. John Bel) Edwards proposes using new rounds of federal assistance to close the rest of the shortfall and boost spending by $186 million in the next budget year. He’s proposing pay raises for K-12 public school teachers and college faculty, new dollars for the TOPS tuition program and other student aid and increased spending for public college campuses. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, said the administration believes Louisiana’s economy will return to pre-pandemic tax collections in later years, with growth to offset the lost federal aid. “You assume the economy is going to return to normal, which in Louisiana doesn’t usually happen,” (state Sen. Greg) Tarver said. Dardenne acknowledged the state will “have to wait and see,” but he said the state already is showing signs of economic uptick.  

Expanding SNAP for college students  
During the pandemic, while college students have had an even harder time meeting their basic needs, two of the main qualifications that students have traditionally used for access to SNAP (formerly, Food Stamps) – working at least 20 hours a week or receiving a work-study award – have become far less available. In response to this reality, Congress passed temporary changes to SNAP’s rules for students. The LSU Reveille’s Josh Archote explains what colleges can do to ensure students know about these expanded benefits.

“While in school, they [students] have limited capacity to work outside of school and often are financially independent or otherwise primarily responsible for supporting themselves, and so deserve food assistance benefits just like anyone else,” [LBP’s Danny] Mintz said. … “Probably the most important action a college can take is for the financial aid office to reach out directly to students through an email and explain that they may be eligible for SNAP based on information already in the University’s system,” Mintz said. “LSU could work with student organizations to publicize this public benefits change, which would also help reduce stigma around the program.”

Help for child care centers
Child care centers in Louisiana were hit hard by the pandemic, with 70% of them shutting their doors at the height of the shutdown. But massive help is on the way through the American Rescue Plan, which steers $773 million to Louisiana. The money can be used to support salaries, rent, personal protective equipment and Covid-related expenses, and to expand access for low-income families. Will Sentell and Della Hasselle report for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate:  

Kenneth Francis, the director of policy and child advocacy for the nonprofit Agenda for Children, cautioned that officials should be careful about how to allocate the one-time federal dollars so they don’t end up covering expenses that should be funded through permanent revenue. For instance, he’s wary of using the money to fund more child care seats for families through the Child Care Assistance Program, a state-run initiative that uses federal money to help low-income families pay for education for kids under the age of 4. If the funds aren’t recurring, more families could be served only to end up on a waitlist after they dry up, Francis said.

Number of the Day
34% –
Percentage of children in need from birth through 4 in Baton Rouge who have access to publicly funded child care services. (Source: Louisiana Policy Institute for Children via The Advocate)