Rental (lack of) assistance

Rental (lack of) assistance

Louisiana renters are in a financial crisis. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the economic hardship of the pandemic has left nearly 100,000 Louisianans behind on rent and more than 200,000 Louisianans with little to no confidence they can pay next month’s rent. The federal government has sent more than $500 million to Louisiana and its local governments to help people stay in their homes. But most of that money still hasn’t gotten to those who need it. David Hammer of WWL-TV reports that confusion and frustration are building as people wait for the funding to flow: 

“That’s over $550 million that’s been here since the spring of 2021. And they’re not getting the money out the door,” said fair-housing advocate Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA. In New Orleans, where more applicants have received help than anywhere else in the state, barely one-sixth of nearly 17,000 applicants had been paid and only $18 million of the city’s $46 million share of the federal aid had been received as of Aug. 2. But progress paying grants in the rest of the state has been even more tepid. East Baton Rouge Parish and Jefferson Parish each qualified for more federal money than New Orleans by virtue of their larger populations. But they combined to pay out barely a third of the money and a third of the grants New Orleans has.

Justice denied
Louisiana’s history of racial violence is well known (though recent state social studies standards were notably silent on the rise and ramifications of Jim Crow laws), but it can be easy to forget the details of our state’s anti-Black brutality, and the role that state institutions played in covering up and condoning murders of Black people by white people during the civil rights era. LSU’s Cold Case Project works to bring some of these injustices to light by investigating unsolved Klan murders of Black people in Louisiana and southern Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s. Rachel Mipro reports in the Louisiana Illuminator on the long-forgotten case of Robert Fuller, a violent sex trafficker with the mental capacity of a 10-year old who murdered four Black men and wounded a fifth, yet was never charged with a crime. The lone survivor of Fuller’s rampage was charged with trying to kill his shooter.  

Racial disparities like that were typical in that day and helped fuel the suspicions that many Blacks still have about law enforcement. Legal experts, including former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, the prosecutor who put two of the Birmingham bombers behind bars, say the 1960 investigations by the Ouachita Parish sheriff, coroner and district attorney were so incomplete that they amounted to a travesty of justice. “There’s no question in my mind that he murdered folks,” Jones said after reading the FBI documents about Fuller at the Manship School’s request. “And there is no question in my mind that local authorities and local grand juries in the community just let him get away with it,” Jones said.

Good enough for government work
The epithet “good enough for government work” was originally offered as a compliment, in recognition of the high standards demanded of and delivered by government programs. President Ronald Reagan’s assault on government services, however, turned that phrase on its head. The following onslaught of disinvestment in public benefits and the systems that deliver them became, in some cases, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, as Congress debates historic and overdue investments in American infrastructure and society, Amy E. Lerman talks with Jake Blumgart of Governing about the importance of building back trust in public programs—including efforts to ensure that public benefits are not overburdensome to access:

It’s not enough just to pass the thing. Passing policies that have potential to meaningfully impact people’s lives is a first step. But there has to be follow through. Some of it is educating people, making it as easy as possible for people to claim benefits, and making sure benefits are delivered in a way that really helps people. Then helping people connect those policies to government, realizing that the service or benefit they’re getting is part of a collective responsibility we have for each other that is personified in our government institutions. 

Lafayette can invest in helping the homeless
The current influx of federal Covid funds gives our local and state governments a historic opportunity to invest in their communities using federal Covid-relief dollars. Yet, Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s proposal for spending American Rescue Plan Act dollars only focuses on traditional infrastructure, leaving out the people and communities hit the hardest by the pandemic. This week, the Lafayette City and Parish Councils decided to pause their decision on Guillory’s proposed investments in favor of greater consideration of their constituents, including how they might address rising homelessness in their community. Claire Taylor of The Acadiana Advocate has the story

“This is a golden opportunity for us to correct some long-term systemic issues that have plagued this community, this state and this nation for years and we’re literally passing it up to focus on roads, streets, bridges and drainage,” City Council member Glenn Lazard said. “COVID has had a disproportionate impact on poor people and people that look like me, frankly. Let’s take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to literally change the social fabric of this community.”

As schools reopen and the pandemic continues, children and families are increasingly in crisis: 

Kim Boudreaux, CEO of Catholic Charities of Acadiana, said the agency is receiving about 500 calls on average every day this month from people in crisis. “We’re in a complete free fall,” Boudreaux told the councils. “Families living in cars all summer with their children, with babies. These cars are parked in your districts.”  Acadiana schools are realizing the extent of the homelessness crisis when parents go to register their children for school and they don’t have an address, she said, and the children are filthy and hungry. “It’s heartbreaking,” Boudreaux said.

Number of the Day 
7.5 million – Number of Americans not working due to lack of child care – making it the No. 1 reason Americans are staying out of the labor force. Another 1.9 million are not working for lack of elder care. (Source: U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey)