A tax-swap package that had been stalled for weeks on the House floor won near-unanimous approval in the lower chamber on Thursday after days of negotiations between House leaders and the Legislative Black Caucus. House Bill 274 by Rep. Stuart Bishop passed 99-2, a day after the same bill failed on the House floor along a vote that fell mostly along partisan lines. Tyler Bridges of The Advocate explains what changed:
“We finally feel more comfortable that they’re working in good faith with us on some of our priorities,” Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said in an interview. He cited measures sponsored by Democrats that would give tax credits to the poor and for children and a bill that would provide a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products and diapers.
The tax swap involves getting rid of the ability to deduct federal income taxes (FIT) on state returns in exchange for lowering personal income tax rates. The swap is designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning it wouldn’t raise any revenue or reduce overall tax collections. But that still leaves the state facing revenue shortfalls in future years, when the federal recovery dollars that are propping up the state budget are no longer available.
Louisiana workers deserve stronger unemployment benefits
People in Louisiana who lose their jobs through no fault of their own can look forward to some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the country. And the Louisiana House of Representatives wants to keep it that way. Legislation to raise the top weekly benefit by $28 was shot down on Thursday after a “back to work enhancement program” was amended onto the bill. Louisiana’s current maximum weekly benefit of $247 is the equivalent of $6.18 an hour, and is the third-lowest in the nation. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte:
(Rep. Rodney) Lyons, a Democrat from Harvey, initially proposed to raise the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits — which are currently set at $247 — by $28. That was a deal struck by some business and labor associations to raise benefits that are the second-lowest in the nation. But Republicans on the House labor committee also added a provision by GOP Rep. Mike Echols into the bill that would have given Louisiana residents receiving unemployment a lump sum payment of $500 or $1,000 to go back to work, if they gave up their right to claim jobless benefits for six months. Some opponents objected to raising unemployment benefits. Others objected to giving a bonus payment to jobless people who are required to search for work in order to receive unemployment.
Opponents of the bill voiced their concern over unemployment benefits being too high and causing a labor shortage due to the $300 weekly boost. But House Bill 610 would not have increased benefits until January 1, 2022.
Broadband internet transforms communities
Jackson County, Kentucky and its surrounding communities recently received high-speed fiber optic internet thanks to federal money. Now, the lives of the residents in this rural Appalachian community are changing for the better. Tom Wheeler of the Brookings Institution has more:
Next door to Jackson County and also on the fiber network, Owsley County is one of the nation’s poorest counties. Yet, between 2014, when the fiber network was completed, and 2019, unemployment in the county fell five percentage points, more than any other county in the state. Today, in a classic “if you build it, they will come,” residents of Owsley and Jackson counties work online, mostly from home, for companies as diverse as Amazon, Hilton, and Apple. They have professional, high paying jobs as customer service agents, tech support and health insurance support. The network, with only 7,000 customers, has created 1,100 jobs generating $24 million in new annual payrolls through the end of 2020, according to Keith Gabbard, its general manager.
Helping families keep food on the table in the summer
When schools closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, many children and families who relied on school lunch and breakfast programs fell deeper into food insecurity. In response, the new Pandemic EBT program boosted household grocery benefits to compensate for the lack of school lunches. But child hunger during the summer months was a significant problem even before the pandemic, and a new nationwide Summer EBT benefit proposed in President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan, aims to use lessons from the nation’s pandemic response to build a permanent program to relieve summer hunger.. Zoë Neuberger of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has more:
To address the large share of low-income children who do not receive free meals over the summer, policymakers launched a Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (Summer EBT) demonstration program in 2011 to see whether grocery benefits would provide nutrition assistance more effectively to low-income children. And, in fact, supplemental grocery benefits measurably decreased food hardship and improved the quality of children’s diets. Despite its success, policymakers have provided only limited funding for this demonstration, enabling only a few states to offer it each year. The American Families Plan includes $25 billion over the next decade to make Summer EBT benefits available nationwide in future summers. This important investment, in combination with additional investments that would make it easier for community organizations to offer summer programs with meals so that children benefit from the enrichment activities as well as the meals, could eliminate the long-standing increase in summer food hardship for low-income school children.
Number of the Day
284,000 – Number of payroll jobs that Louisiana lost between February and April of 2020. About 128,000 of them – or 45%- had returned by the end of March. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)