Rental assistance (still) too slow

Rental assistance (still) too slow

About half of Louisiana residents were struggling to make ends meet before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, according to the United Way’s ALICE report. Now, more than 18 months into an evolving public health emergency, about 146,000 Louisiana households are behind on rent, putting families in danger of eviction as protections expire—a situation made more dire by the multiple natural disasters that hit Louisiana during the pandemic. JC Canicosa of the Louisiana Illuminator reports that only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to state and local rental relief programs have made it to families in need: 

As of Thursday, the state has paid out $42 million for 7,800 households struggling to pay their rent, according to Desiree Honore Thomas, assistant commissioner of administration for the Louisiana Division of Administration. Meanwhile, local governments have paid out $70 million between 15,000 households. (…) “Hundreds of thousands of Louisiana renters and landlords are still waiting on state and local governments to fulfill their obligation to administer emergency rental assistance,” said Maxwell Ciardullo, director of policy and communications at the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “The majority of those renters are in storm-impacted parishes.”

Congress should boost unemployment insurance 
Swift action by Congress provided a strong and effective safety net for American families during the initial months of the pandemic. Enhanced federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and direct cash payments through stimulus checks kept millions out of poverty in 2021. This was especially important in Louisiana, where high poverty rates and inadequate state unemployment benefits set families up for severe economic hardship without federal aid. Josh Bivens and Asha Banerjee of the Economic Policy Institute explain the positive impact of the enhanced federal aid, and offer recommendations for how to build on these successes: 

What we can do about it: Make UI a more powerful macroeconomic stabilizer by enacting reforms along three key dimensions or margins: eligibility, duration, and benefit levels. For example, program parameters could be strengthened to ensure that a larger share of unemployed workers are eligible for benefits, that benefits last long enough to bridge a jobless spell, and that benefits replace a high-enough share of previous earnings to minimize hardship.

Invest in child care
Louisiana has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation, with outcomes that too often leave our youngest residents at the bottom of the “good lists” and top of the “bad lists.” But it doesn’t have to be this way. Congress has a rare chance to make lasting, long-overdue investments in children by expanding access to early care and education while ensuring that those who provide this crucial care are paid better. In a letter to The Advocate, Baton Rouge educator Sarah Walsh explains:

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan includes a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s childcare and early education system. Louisianans should rally around this plan to ensure Congress also gets on board. Early developmental opportunities provide a foundation for children’s academic success, health and general well-being, as positive experiences support children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. Child care and early education are also crucial to sustaining a healthy national economy. 

Americans agree on negotiating drug prices 
The United States spends more on health care than any other nation. And American consumers pay more for prescription drugs than consumers in any other country, according to recent research. The Build Back Better plan would address these soaring costs by letting the federal government negotiate with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries. The savings from lower prescription drug costs would be used to pay for new investments in safety-net programs. According the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, most Americans think this is a great idea:

When asked specifically about each argument, most (84%) of the public, including three-quarters (78%) of Republicans, say the argument in favor – “this is needed because Americans pay higher prices than people in other countries, many can’t afford their prescriptions, and drug company profits are too high” – is convincing.(…) Among key interest groups, more say they are confident in the recommendations of AARP (53%), which has strongly advocated for drug-price negotiations, than say so about drug companies (14%).

Number of the Day
7.5% – Decline in Louisiana state and local government employment, excluding education, from July 2019 to July 2021 (Source: Pew Charitable Trust)