More than ever—but not enough—on climate

More than ever—but not enough—on climate

The new, pared down package of social investments that President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled on Thursday includes $555 billion over 10 years in programs, tax credits and policies aimed at curbing greenhouse emissions—the largest investment in climate action in America’s history. But this  unprecedented effort to avert the worst effects of climate change is likely to fall far short of what’s needed. As ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten reports, cheaping out on climate policies now is a costly choice in both human and economic terms:

Some economists and climate scientists have calculated that climate change could cost the United States the equivalent of nearly 4% of its gross domestic product a year by 2100. Four percent is likely a conservative estimate; it leaves out consequential costs like damages from drought and climate migration. It assumes the United States and other nations eventually move away from energy generated by oil, coal and natural gas, though not as immediately as many say is needed. … Four percent of American GDP comes out to about $840 billion each year, if figured on last year’s economy. Measured over a decade the way the Build Back Better Act is framed, it’s nearly $8.4 trillion. But the actual cost of climate change to the economy could easily be far greater.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the United States currently provides roughly $200 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels each decade.

Louisiana gets a “D” on school funding
Two-thirds of students in Louisiana’s schools are considered economically disadvantaged. For those students, adequate school funding is essential. But, according to a new report by the Education Law Center, Louisiana’s upside-down school funding model offers more resources to the districts with the wealthiest students and fewer resources to the districts with the poorest students. As The Advocate’s Will Sentell explains, that $579 per-student gap between rich and poor districts is one of several reasons that Louisiana’s investments in our state’s school children received a “D” rating in the report.

The study says the state ranks 34th in the nation in funding schools, spends more on low-poverty school districts than those with financial difficulties and allocates less than the average when it comes to public school spending as a percentage of the state’s economy. It also puts Louisiana with a handful of states, including Florida and Tennessee, that “perform poorly across the board.”

Slow path to fair disaster aid
As Louisianans know all too well, disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can be slow in coming, difficult to navigate and, often, discriminatory in effect. A November 2020 report from FEMA’s Advisory council found that the agency’s policies and practices make existing inequities worse: “Through the entire disaster cycle, communities that have been underserved stay underserved, and thereby suffer needlessly and unjustly.” Now, reports Christopher Flavelle in the New York Times, a year after the council’s report, FEMA is still figuring out how to respond: 

FEMA’s response does not provide enough information to know how seriously it is taking racial equity and whether its measures are likely to work, according to Junia Howell, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois Chicago. “They could have been much more explicit,” said Dr. Howell, whose research has shown that disaster aid widens racial inequality. “When we see FEMA’s actions, we will see to what extent we are collectively moving toward a government that is serving all of its people.”

Meanwhile, in the face of delays in FEMA temporary housing, Louisiana has begun instituting its own stopgap response. Southerly Magazine’s Carly Berlin has the story:

The program, which launched on Oct. 4, is the first of its kind, (Mike) Steele (of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness) said. It’s meant to be a bridge before FEMA offers direct temporary housing—usually RVs or manufactured units—which often take months to arrive. GOHSEP is administering the program with input from parish officials, and FEMA will reimburse the state for a portion of the cost. “FEMA kind of approached us,” Steele said. “I think they’re aware that their program is pretty tedious.”

Cash assistance works for families and kids
The Covid-19 pandemic hit families hard, economically and emotionally. And, according to a survey conducted throughout the pandemic by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, material hardship, while exceptionally high across all racial categories over the past year and a half, was nearly twice as high for Black and Latinx households as for white households during some weeks of the survey. While the virus hit families hard, federal cash assistance played a major role in reducing its harm:

While families with young children reported high rates of material hardship during the winter of 2020, hardship significantly decreased following arrival of the Economic Impact Payments in early 2021; and this decline was followed by reduced emotional distress in parents/caregivers and their children in subsequent weeks. Data also show that the majority of families who received pandemic-related cash assistance (62 percent who received Economic Impact Payments and 72 percent who received pandemic unemployment benefits), including high-income families, spent it on basic needs; and 86 percent of families used Economic Impact Payments to pay overdue or unpaid bills.

Number of the Day
$579 – Amount less, per-student, that Louisiana’s high-poverty districts have to spend, compared to districts whose students experience less financial need. (Source: Education Law Center, via The Advocate)