With Omicron fueling our current Covid surge, more workers across America are calling out sick to care for themselves or their family members than at any other point in the pandemic. It’s a particular problem for hospitals, which had already been reeling from staffing shortages because of employee burnout. In many hospitals, pre-pandemic staffing policies left little room to meet a surge in need, and many have now seen up to 8% of their staff out sick. Eli Rosenberg of the Washington Post details what’s at stake with so many workers out sick with limited support from states and the federal government:
The absences are another reminder of how closely related the public health picture is to the country’s economic growth, [Joseph Brusuelas] said. Workers and businesses headed into this wave with few of the supports they had during previous ones, including tax incentives for paid sick leave programs and government loans. “This is not the first variant and may not be the last,” Brusuelas said. “[With] more proactive public health measures to help individuals and households mitigate risk, the better the economy will be.”
Access to paid leave is vitally important to help ensure that people who get sick or have to care for a family member don’t have to choose between their health and their job. Nearly half of Louisiana workers lack access to paid sick days. Low-wage workers are much less likely to have access to paid leave than higher-wage workers. See LBP’s blog on how paid sick leave would help Louisiana workers—and every Louisianan who doesn’t want their server or cashier to have to work sick.
Prisons are not psychiatric hospitals
An ongoing legal battle over prison mental health services and solitary confinement of people with disabilities at a North Louisiana prison will cost the state millions of dollars. Much of that money could have been spent on improving the conditions that sparked the lawsuit in the first place. People who were formerly incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center in Claiborne Parish allege that prison officials ignored mental illness diagnoses and improperly put people in solitary confinement, which made their illness worse. The plaintiffs aren’t seeking financial compensation from the state, but instead demand that conditions at the prison be improved. Julie O’Donoghue at the Louisiana Illuminator reports:
Attorneys for the plaintiffs expressed shock that the legal fees had run so high before the trial even started. They said the $2.9 million could have gone a long way toward fixing the conditions at David Wade that the lawsuit is meant to address. “These are taxpayer dollars that should be spent on state programs, rather than on lawyers,” Katie Schwartzmann, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, wrote in an email. “This is part of an increasing trend of the (Department of Corrections) focusing more on scorched-earth litigation over common-sense improvements.”
Raise teacher pay
Standardized test scores for public school students have fallen during the pandemic, and teacher retirements are on the rise. Meanwhile, fewer young people are entering the teaching profession to take the place of those who retire, a situation set to leave Louisiana’s students in the lurch. While chronically low pay isn’t the only thing ailing Louisiana’s public schools, it’s hard to imagine the system making much progress unless it starts paying educators a more competitive wage. An Advocate editorial agrees:
Pay here ranks 12th of 16 states in the South, with average salaries of $51,566 compared to the regional average of $55,205, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. The U.S. average is $64,133. … Nor is raising teacher pay easy in the state budget that must be constructed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, working with the Legislature. The one-time money available from federal pandemic relief and infrastructure grants isn’t the reliable year-in, year-out cash needed for salary increases. Maybe it won’t be easy, but it is clearly a necessary step for getting life in our state back to normal — or better.
The governor’s budget recommendations for the 2022-23 fiscal year will be presented to the Legislature on Tuesday.
Bureaucratic hurdles keeping food aid from families
The Pandemic EBT program (also called P-EBT) sent over $720 million in food assistance to students across the state earlier in the pandemic. But this school year, with more kids forced out of the classroom by Covid cases, the program has left many parents and administrators flustered—with schools being a mix of in-person and virtual, the P-EBT program has become harder to administer. So far, the US Department of Agriculture has only approved eight states to issue P-EBT benefits this school year. Louisiana’s application to run the program again this year has been submitted, but is still waiting for USDA approval. For the Washington Post, Laura Reiley has the story:
“There’s not a single state out there that is saying they don’t want to do this, philosophically. State agencies believe in the value of this program, but we need support from our federal partners to simplify P-EBT in a way that helps them chart a course forward,” said Matthew Lyons, director of policy and research for American Public Human Services Association…“Like many other things in the pandemic,” [Elaine] Waxman said, “we’re always playing catch-up in the child nutrition space, rather than anticipating what may come next.”
Number of the Day
8.8 million – The number of workers that reported not working between Dec. 29 and Jan. 10 because they were sick with the coronavirus or caring for someone who was (Source: The Washington Post)