The American Rescue Plan Act steered billions of dollars to states and local governments, which provided critical frontline services during the pandemic. Those federal dollars are a big reason why East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s 2022 budget proposal includes a $50 million increase in projected revenues over the previous year. Terry L. Jones of The Advocate reports on how the extra money will affect Louisiana’s most populous parish:
The council is set to adopt Broome’s proposed allocation for the $95 million in ARP funds it has already received on Thursday. About $41 million of that is going to drainage improvement projects. According to the proposed budget, Broome wants to use $7.9 million to restore funding cut in 2020 to public works and the city-parish central services agencies. The mayor said $2.25 million will be put aside for blight elimination, $1.97 million to purchase fire equipment, $250,000 to replace the phone system in the public defender’s office, $250,000 for youth employment, $15 million to establish a new stormwater division within Environmental Services and $1.96 million for grant management.
For more on how local governments can use ARPA funding to build stronger, more equitable economies, read this policy brief by LBP policy analyst Jackson Voss.
Tuition-free community college out of Build Back Better
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda keeps shrinking in response to demands from Democratic moderates. The latest casualty: tuition-free community college, aimed at combating the rising cost of higher education. Vox’s Fabiola Cineas outlines what this proposal would have meant for the country, and what Congress is reportedly doing to support the needs of students and families in the meantime.
Despite evidence that free tuition for community college can combat the affordability gap and lead to higher college enrollment and, ultimately, higher wages for low-income students and students of color, the plan had few champions in the face of other Democratic priorities. The bill will likely still include tuition assistance through expanded need-based financial aid, funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and money for workforce development programs, according to experts who spoke to Vox. But the result illustrated a big problem for free college in America: Among most Democrats, the idea might be popular, but it’s just not a top priority when up against the likes of child care initiatives like universal preschool and the child tax credit.
One more resource gone in north Baton Rouge
Residents of the northern part of Baton Rouge, a predominantly Black and historically under-resourced community, already experience high rates of food insecurity—now, another grocery store has shut its doors to the community, leaving residents with fewer accessible options for fresh, nutritious food. Areas where it is increasingly difficult for residents to purchase nutritional food have been on the rise in Louisiana throughout the pandemic. Breanne Bizette of WAFB reports on how this recent grocery store closure impacts residents, and what local leaders believe needs to be done.
[Local leaders] established the North Economic District specifically to bring more businesses to that part of the parish. However, Metro Council Member Chauna Banks says more needs to be done, “So, to have a grocery store in North Baton Rouge, we have to have anchors that also draw people and that was not one of those stores. There’s no development, no housing for multiple years in that area, so it is a huge loss.” Banks says city leaders need to start taking a different approach for the communities scattered throughout North Baton Rouge because not every neighborhood has the same needs. A lot of the folks in the Evangeline area would walk to the “Save A Lot” grocery store, while other stores are almost a mile away. Now older residents will have to figure out a way to get there now.
A ‘broken market’ in child care
While President Biden has scaled back his Build Back Better agenda, one thing that remains in the plan is an unprecedented investment in child care and pre-K services for low- and moderate-income families. As Claire Cain Miller explains in The New York Times, child care attendance would be free for families with children aged 0-2 that earn less than $72,000 per year (or $100,000 per year in wealthier areas), and preschool would be free for all kids starting at age 3. Such policies are already the norm in most other developed nations, but would represent epochal change in a country that has historically underinvested in children.
The child care package — led by Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia — addresses a basic math problem. There are not enough spots in child care centers for those who need them, and child care workers earn less than workers in 98 percent of occupations. Yet care is unaffordable for many families, so providers cannot significantly raise prices. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in September, “Child care is a textbook example of a broken market.”
Number of the Day
60,031 – Number of additional 3- and 4-year olds in Louisiana who could benefit each year from the expanded access to free, high-quality preschool proposed in the Build Back Better framework. (Source: The White House)