Louisiana lawmakers have two chances to change the state’s unemployment insurance program. Rep. Rodney Lyons’s House Bill 610 proposes a much-needed increase in weekly benefits, substantially raising the state’s range for weekly unemployment benefits over the next 4 years. Most importantly, the bill establishes weekly benefits based on the state’s average weekly wage — a minimum of 40% and maximum of 66.6% of that wage. Workers currently struggling to stay afloat, however, won’t see immediate relief, as the law would not take effect until January 1, 2022. LBP’s Neva Butkus spoke to The Illuminator’s Wesley Muller about the bill:
With Louisiana’s current average weekly wage at $940, an individual’s weekly unemployment benefit would be a minimum of $376 and a maximum of $626. “That would put us on par with Arkansas and Texas,” said Neva Butkus, policy analyst with the Louisiana Budget Project, a nonprofit that promotes policies to benefit low-to-moderate-income families. “Those are the two highest in the southern region.” Unemployment insurance benefits in Arkansas and Texas are $450 and $520 per week, respectively. Nationwide, the average payout just before the COVID-19 pandemic was $387 per week, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy institute that studies a range of government policies and programs.
Sen. Mike Reese’s Senate Bill 225, on the other hand, ultimately cuts unemployment benefits by slashing the duration of benefits from the current 26 weeks down to 12 weeks. The bill does propose to increase weekly payments from the current maximum of $247 to $277, but the increase would depend on both the unemployment trust fund balance and the state’s economic performance, and would not be enough to offset the bill’s cuts to how long unemployed workers can maintain benefits while they look for work. Senator Reese commented that he is considering changing the duration of benefits language in the bill:
In a phone call Thursday, Reese said he is still working on the legislation and researching what the best numbers might be for Louisiana. The average length of time residents remained on unemployment in 2019 was 15.7 weeks, he said. “We’re still working on what that number could be or should be,” the senator said. “In pulling in some best practices from other states, maybe at the end of the day, maybe it’s 15 weeks and 20 weeks or 14 weeks and 22 weeks.”
Abolishing slavery in Louisiana
If you have ever visited Louisiana’s State Capitol, you likely have seen incarcerated Louisianans at work in custodial and food service roles. The Louisiana Department of Corrections forces many incarcerated people to work for virtually no pay, most notably people imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary on the grounds of the former Angola plantation. That’s because Louisiana’s constitution allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. House Bill 196 by Rep. Edmond Jordan aims to amend the Louisiana Constitution to end legal slavery in our state once and for all. If HB 196 passes, Louisiana voters would have a chance to right a historical wrong in November of 2022, when Rep. Jordan’s amendment would appear on the ballot. Decarcerate Louisiana’s Curtis Davis discusses his experience with The Advocate’s Blake Paterson:
Curtis Ray Davis II spent several years working at a quail barn while incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, making just two cents an hour. After two decades of work, Davis received $1,200. He described himself Wednesday as a “modern day ex-slave.” “I spent 25 years in slavery. It was traumatizing, it was painful, physically and mentally. I felt sub-human, demeaned, socially dead,” said Davis, executive director of Decarcerate Louisiana, which advocates for prison reform. “I just don’t believe that Louisiana and the United States should be in the business of legalized slavery.”
A new tool shows health disparities
This week the Louisiana Department of Health unveiled the Louisiana State Health Assessment dashboard, a new data tool for exploring health outcomes across Louisiana. The website declares that, “everyone in Louisiana deserves to lead a full, happy life”—and also shows how far we have to go. The site’s easy-to-read quantitative data on key health factors could be a valuable resource for community organizers, policy makers, and researchers fighting for health equity. The Advocate’s Emily Woodruff has more:
“This report really makes clear the disparities that exist, not only among health outcomes, but among factors that influence health,” said Katherine Cain, who directs the Louisiana Department of Health’s Bureau of Planning and Performance, noting that outcomes can be broken down by income, race, region or education level. “It really is quite painful to see the stark differences that exist in many cases between different demographic groups.”
School meals for all
During Covid-19, most schoolchildren in America have had the option to eat free meals at school. Now, California state senator Nancy Skinner is leading the fight to establish the country’s first statewide Universal Meal Plan, starting in the 2022-2023 school year. Not only would Skinner’s plan guarantee free breakfast and lunch for all California students, it would also reduce stigma in the lunchline, and lower paperwork barriers that stop kids from receiving nutritious meals at school. EdSource’s Ali Tadayon has the details:
“If students come to class hungry, it’s harder to learn,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of reasons why a child may come to school hungry; they might just not have had time to pack a lunch. Why should we have to go through a whole bureaucratic hassle to get the kid fed when we could just have universal meals?” … Since the pandemic, California districts have distributed millions of free “grab-and-go” meals to students without requiring them to fill out the National School Lunch Program application thanks to a series of waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The waivers allowed districts to be reimbursed for every meal they distributed, not just those served to students signed up for the free and reduced-price lunch program. But those waivers are set to expire at the end of September.
Number of the Day
61% – The percent of Hispanic women in Louisiana who have prenatal care in the first trimester. 82% of white women receive the same care. (Source: Louisiana State Health Assessment).