In the early months of the Covid emergency, Congress passed legislation that bumped up Medicaid funding for states. In exchange for the extra funding, states had to promise to not cut people from the program while the public health emergency remained in effect. While the health emergency is expected to last at least until the end of the year, the Louisiana Department of Health has already started warning some Medicaid recipients that their coverage may end if they don’t respond to requests for information. In the past, such paperwork requirements have left many beneficiaries confused and caused people to lose coverage even when they’re still eligible. The Lens’s Philip Kiefer has the story:
There are steps that the state could take to soften the blow. One of them, expanding Medicaid coverage for people who have just given birth using funding from the American Rescue Plan, died in the 2021 legislative session. It’s also unclear how the legislature’s decision to set the Medicaid budget $24 million below Gov. John Bel Edwards’ original budget proposal will impact recipients. [LBP Policy Director Stacey] Roussell said that her organization’s goal is to see the process slow down and focus on people who still need coverage. “If you’re entering into it just to say, ‘we must get everybody who is ineligible off the rolls as fast as possible,’ then you’re willing to sacrifice a huge number of people who may still be eligible,” she said. “We want to say, let’s first make sure that everybody has the best chance possible to show that they’re eligible.”
Grading Louisiana’s drinking water systems
As Congress debates plans for investing in infrastructure repairs and improvements nationwide, Louisiana is beginning to take a closer look at the condition of its 1,300 local drinking water systems. What they’re finding isn’t great: Water systems need repairs that are estimated to cost between $4 billion and $7 billion. Now, a new rating system similar to the system used to grade the state’s public schools aims to make the state of the state’s drinking water infrastructure more transparent to residents opening the tap. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports on how the new system, written into law by state Sen. Fred Mills, will work:
Mills said public information about water systems often is highly technical and hard to decipher. When someone can see an F-rated system, “it causes the public to say, ‘Why do I have to live under this type of water system?’” Mills told lawmakers. Water systems will be judged on their water quality violations, financial sustainability, customer satisfaction and other benchmarks. The health department will have to publish the grades online. Any community water system that receives a D or F could be subject to corrective measures and will have to submit improvement plans.
After Covid: a work-life rebalancing
San Diego’s Jeremy Golembiewski worked 26 years in the restaurant industry. When the pandemic hit, he caught the virus at work and brought it home to his family. But a furlough last year gave Golembiewski something he hadn’t had in years: time with his family during key life events, and the opportunity to re-think his priorities. As NPR’s Andrea Hsu explains, Golembiewski is one of many workers re-thinking what they want out of work as the worst of the pandemic passes.
At age 42, he got a glimpse of what life could be like if he didn’t have to put in 50 to 60 hours a week at the restaurant and miss Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning with his family. “I want to see my 1-year-old and my 5-year-old’s faces light up when they come out and see the tree and all the presents that I spent six hours at night assembling and putting out,” says Golembiewski, who got his first restaurant job at 16 as a dishwasher at the Big Boy chain in Michigan. So instead of returning to work last week, Golembiewski resigned, putting an end to his long restaurant career and to the unemployment checks that have provided him a cushion to think about what he’ll do next. With enough savings to last a month or two, he’s sharpening his resume, working on his typing skills and starting to interview for jobs in fields that are new to him: retail, insurance, data entry. The one thing he’s sure of: He wants to work a 40-hour week.
Payday lending reform in Hawai’i
Payday loans prey on people in desperate situations, offering immediate access to cash with repayment terms so short and interest rates so high that people are often forced to take out new payday loans to meet expenses while they pay off the old ones. Louisiana offers limited protection in state law for people locked in a cycle of predatory debt, but new legislation in Hawai’i points a way forward. As Pew’s Nick Bourke, Gabriel Kravitz and Linlin Liang lay out, beginning in 2022, borrowers in the Aloha State will be able to pay down payday loans on more favorable terms.
Before these reforms, Hawaii law permitted unaffordable balloon-payment loans that were typically due back in one lump sum on the borrower’s next payday. These loans carried annual percentage rates of up to 460%. To borrow $500 over four months, a customer would pay $700 in finance charges, and the lump-sum payment often would consume one-third or more of the borrower’s next paycheck. Such large payments meant many borrowers needed to quickly take another loan to meet other financial obligations. H.B. 1192 will replace these single-payment loans with installment loans for amounts up to $1,500 that are repayable in two to 12 months. They can have annual interest rates of up to 36% plus a monthly fee up to $35, depending on loan size, but the law caps total loan charges at half of the amount borrowed. It also allows borrowers to repay early without penalty, and deems loans made by lenders without a state license void and uncollectable to prevent efforts to circumvent the law’s consumer protections.
Programming note: The Daily Dime is taking its annual summer hiatus. We’ll be back in your inboxes in early August.
Number of the Day
63,100 – Gap in employment between May 2019 and May 2021 in the New Orleans area. Despite gains over May 2020 jobs figures, employment in the Crescent City still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels (Source: Nola.com)