Immigrant workers left out of disaster aid

Immigrant workers left out of disaster aid

Louisiana often relies on the labor of immigrant workers after disasters, including many without documentation. But when those same workers are hit by a disaster, they are left out of most federal programs providing relief. As Philip Kiefer reports in the Lens, in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s devastation, many immigrants in southeast Louisiana are cut off from disaster assistance, whether they’re eligible or not.

“It’s abundantly obvious that eligibility on paper does not mean eligibility in life,” [Mary] Yanik, [Director of Tulane University’s Immigrant Rights Clinic] said. She described one client who was eligible for FEMA relief, and marked on their application that they spoke only Spanish. Still, that person was contacted by an English-speaking FEMA inspector. ‘The delays also dissuade people, and prevent the informal networks from helping,” said Yanik.  “As in, ‘This worked for me, you should apply.’ There’s a lot of people who are eligible who are not applying. Especially in the immigrant community — they don’t know they can apply, or they’re afraid to apply.”

Bring Supplemental Security Income into the 21st century
The Supplemental Security Income program provides cash assistance to people who are aged, blind or disabled and who have low incomes. But the program’s rules, which in many cases haven’t been updated since the mid-1980s, penalize recipients for getting help from friends, for getting married and for working. New legislation proposed in Congress, called the SSI Restoration Act, aims to update the program and to right many of those policy wrongs. In testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, Kathleen Romig of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained how the act could bring a more humane SSI program into the modern age:

SSI is expensive to administer because its complex and outdated rules require SSA staff to continually monitor beneficiaries’ living arrangements, incomes, savings, support from family and friends, marital status, and more. SSI overpayments happen most frequently when beneficiaries’ savings rise above $2,000; when their wages exceed $65 in a month; and when they receive in-kind support from family and friends. If the rules governing assets, earnings, and in-kind support were modernized, SSI would have fewer errors and be less burdensome for both beneficiaries and administrators. SSI benefits make up only 5 percent of SSA payments, but the program requires 35 percent of the agency’s budget to administer. In contrast, SSA spends 20 percent of its budget to administer Social Security Disability Insurance, even though it has nearly 2 million more beneficiaries than SSI.

Entergy’s profits rise while its transmission towers topple
When the air conditioning went out across southeast Louisiana during Hurricane Ida, representatives of Entergy argued that nothing could be done to prevent power loss in a storm of Ida’s size. With a warming climate bringing increasingly powerful hurricanes to south Louisiana, an un-hardened electrical grid will bring more misery in years to come. Now, new reporting by ProPublica and WWNO finds that the utility monopoly spent years skimping on investments in the power grid while reaping record profits.

Five independent energy and environment experts who reviewed the findings of NPR and ProPublica’s investigation said that ENO and its parent corporation, a Fortune 500 company that made a record profit of $1.4 billion in 2020, had failed in recent years to reduce the scope of harm that a storm like Ida could cause. They expressed concerns over the utility’s insufficient grid investments, spending cuts for routine maintenance and overstatement of equipment’s capabilities to supply reliable power after storms. As a result, local officials were left to reckon with a stark reality: The most vulnerable New Orleans residents were left powerless by the city’s most powerful company.

Can you call it “recovery” if you’re worse off than before?
Seeing signs of economic recovery, the Federal Reserve Bank signalled on Wednesday that it will soon reduce its monetary support for the economy. But while incomes and employment are up in higher-paying sectors, the low-income job market is still a fifth smaller than it was just before the pandemic. Vox’s Emily Stewart has a rundown of the many ways that the putative economic recovery is leaving low-wage workers behind.

By many of the usual benchmarks, the United States would appear to be in the midst of a relatively robust — albeit rocky — economic recovery. GDP has bounced back, unemployment is falling, and the stock market is booming. American households added a collective $13.5 trillion to their wealth in 2020. [….] Officially, the Covid-19 recession lasted just two months. Unofficially, to a lot of people, that designation is meaningless — or, at the very least, a little hard to swallow. [….] “I have a general idea of what [economic recovery] means, but I don’t think to us, personally, it has an individual effect,” Norris says. “Covid didn’t make us poor; we already were poor.”

Number of the Day
-24.2% – Average change in personal income in Louisiana between the quarter ending March 31 and the quarter ending June 30. This decline reflects the end of economic stimulus payments in the second quarter (Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)