People over business in pandemic relief

People over business in pandemic relief

Louisiana will receive $3.2 billion in federal pandemic aid through the American Rescue Plan Act, and last week the Louisiana House started the process of dividing those dollars among the state’s many direct needs. Of the $3.2 billion available to the state, legislators chose to set aside a paltry $50 million for nonprofits and businesses that provide direct aid to people affected by the pandemic. The Louisiana Equitable Recovery Collaborative, which includes LBP, is urging legislators to prioritize people before businesses in spending pandemic relief dollars. Housing NOLA executive director Andreanecia Morris spoke with Greg LaRose of WDSU-TV:

“We certainly hoped that the state of Louisiana, its legislators and the governor would do right by the people of Louisiana, that the people who were hit the hardest will get the most and get the first direct assistance. And that hasn’t happened.” [. . .] Morris said initial distributions of federal coronavirus relief funds have only allowed for a patchwork approach to the most critical needs. “That lackluster response at the federal level has been paired with gross mismanagement at the state level,” she said.

Unemployment benefits don’t cause a ‘labor shortage’
Governors in South Carolina, Montana, Missouri and a handful of other states have decided to forgo the $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits available to help people who’ve lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. With economic momentum returning as more Americans get vaccinated, some politicians blame unemployment benefits for the trouble that some companies face as they try to find people to fill low-wage positions. But an analysis of the latest unemployment data by the nonpartisan Century Foundation explains why those fears are unfounded. 

In the 13 states with the lowest unemployment rates, continued UI claims across all programs are down 26 percent since their 2021 peak on February 20. In contrast, in the 13 states with the highest unemployment rates, claims have only declined by 17 percent. In other words, when the labor market recovers and job opportunities abound, workers will exit UI benefits for available jobs. For example, in Alabama, where the average UI benefit is $583 per week (including $300 from FPUC), UI claims have declined 31 percent in an economy with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. In neighboring Louisiana, where benefits are $488, claims have dropped only 4 percent in an economy where the tourism slump has left the state with an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent. It’s the jobs climate, not UI benefits, which are driving the pace at which Americans return to work.

Tax bills are moving (slowly) 
A central piece of the GOP tax overhaul package passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday and is nearing final passage. Senate Bill 159 seeks to amend the state constitution in two ways: It would lower the top personal income tax rate to 4.75% from the current 6%, and allow the Legislature to eliminate the costly federal income tax deduction. Sen. Bret Allain has said he wants any tax changes to be “revenue neutral,” meaning they would raise the same amount of revenue as the current tax structure. Tyler Bridges of The Advocate lays out the political hurdles

(F)or now, SB159 joins the Bishop and Riser tax measures that are stuck on the House floor, caught up in the unrelated racial quarrel. … For two weeks, Black lawmakers have been pressing for the removal of state Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, as chairman of the House Education Committee after he pushed forward with House Bill 564 two weeks after being warned privately that doing so would be racially divisive. Garofalo inflamed the situation that day by saying educators could teach “the good” about “slavery.” Though he immediately retracted the comment, video of the episode went viral, and Black lawmakers have been asking for Garofalo’s removal ever since.

Gov. Edwards joins U.S. climate alliance
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced last week that Louisiana will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of governors committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 that aligns with the Paris Agreement. Edwards’ commitment comes as he continues to embrace a Formosa plant expansion that could triple the level of cancer-causing chemicals in St. James parish. South Louisiana has long been the country’s sacrificial zone where the petrochemical industry profits from exploiting historic inequalities. Tegan Wendland of WWNO explains the significance of the governor’s announcement:

“It’s the first time any Louisiana governor has put the words “climate initiative” and “task force” together in one sentence,” says Monique Harden, policy expert with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “That is a major, historic step forward.” Harden hopes that investing in clean energy creates more jobs, especially in communities of color, and reduces pollution in low income areas. “We can actually generate energy ourselves in a way that doesn’t have these harmful environmental climate effects,” she says.

Number of the Day
21,331 – Number of marijuana arrests in Louisiana in 2018, the vast majority for possession. On Tuesday, the Louisiana House voted 67-25 for a bill that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuna. (Source: ACLU of Louisiana)