Cash can help kids

Cash can help kids

A group of researchers wanted to study how poverty affects childrens’ brain development, so they gave poor mothers in four cities – including New Orleans – an extra $333 per month. The results of the Baby’s First Years study, released Monday, are potentially groundbreaking: The extra monthly cash led to increased brain activity in kids whose families received it. As’s Emily Woodruff explains, these findings suggest that poverty itself causes disparities in early brain development – not just the issues associated with poverty. That’s significant in a state like Louisiana, where more than a quarter of children live in poverty. 

Researchers said (the differences in brain development) were similar to or greater than changes in children’s brains after education interventions like one-on-one tutoring or free breakfast programs, which often come much later in a child’s development. “It’s pretty compelling,” said Dr. Anne Tilton, chief of child neurology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “If you could invest like this and make a measurable difference in some people…what a difference for all of us.”

Despite the extra monthly cash, the mothers in New Orleans faced hardships that their counterparts in other cities did not due to the state’s fragmented social safety net. 

In Louisiana, Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, known as TANF, is mostly funneled to other areas, such as early childhood programs. Those programs are important, but so is cash assistance, said Stacey Roussel, policy director at the Louisiana Budget Project, a non-profit that reports on public policy and how it affects Louisiana’s low- to moderate-income families. “The situation in New Orleans is a statewide problem,” said Roussel. “Louisiana is the worst in the nation for the share of TANF block grant that we use as cash assistance.”

The New York Times’ Jason DeParle explains how these findings could (and should) revive President Joe Biden’s effort to extend the expanded Child Tax Credit. 

The temporary expansion of the child tax credit, passed last year, offered subsidies to all but the richest parents at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion. Representative Suzan DelBene, Democrat of Washington, said the study strengthened the case for the aid by showing that “investing in our children has incredible long-term benefits.” Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, who was one of nine co-authors of the study, said he hoped the research would refocus the debate, which he said was “almost always about the risks that parents might work less or use the money frivolously” toward the question of “whether the payments are good for kids.”

A bountiful budget
Gov. John Bel Edwards is proposing a modest pay raise for public school teachers and college faculty, and massive new investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure as part of his budget recommendations to the Legislature. With Louisiana’s financial picture the brightest it’s been in more than a decade, Edwards is calling for a $1,500 pay raise for teachers, new funding for early childhood education and need-based college scholarships. He also proposes to use $550 million in federal pandemic aid – money that’s meant to help communities recover – to bail out the state’s unemployment trust fund. USA Today Network’s Greg Hilburn breaks down Edwards’ priorities:

Edwards said education — and particularly teacher pay raises — should be at the front of the line. “How do we get off bottom of lists?” Edward said. “The single most important thing is education. Education cures a lot of ills. “I believe the first call on (new) recurring revenue should be teacher pay raises. We can’t afford not to pay our teachers more.” Edwards said the second priority should be infrastructure.” We’re going to turn what once were dreams into realities,” he said, noting that he believes a new Baton Rouge bridge “is the most important infrastructure priority in Louisiana.” It’s also the most expensive at upward of $10 billion.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne will present a more detailed version of the governor’s spending plan at the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget at 9:30. Watch here.

Voting rights win in Alabama could have big implications for Louisiana
A three-judge federal panel struck down a congressional map proposed by the Alabama state legislature, finding that it violated the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. The proposed map included only a single majority-minority district, despite the fact that Black Alabamans make up 27% of the state’s population. This decision could create momentum for creating a second majority-minority district in Louisiana, where 33% of the population is Black yet only one of the state’s six congressional districts is majority-minority. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reports

“Alabama’s steadfast refusal to provide Black voters with adequate representation in Congress is a product of intentional discrimination and directly linked to the state’s history and present conditions of discrimination against Black people,” said the brief in Milligan v. Merrill, one of the three cases.  “The state’s intentional policy of disempowerment and discrimination has resulted in the denial of equal opportunity for Black people to participate in the political process in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the VRA.”

A letter from a  group of civil rights and advocacy organizations, including LBP, is calling on the Legislature to comply with federal requirements that racial minorities have equal opportunity “to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice” when they redraw Louisiana’s congressional district maps.

Inflation misperceptions cloud policy debate 
While the 7% increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) garnered headlines earlier this month, two things got largely lost in the coverage. First, monthly increases in the CPI slowed in the last part of 2021. Second, total consumer spending is roughly tracking its pre-pandemic trend. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chad Stone explains, inflation misperceptions cloud a crucial policy debate. 

None of this is to deny that current inflation is high and will not come down as quickly as many expected when it first emerged last year. But the Federal Reserve is responsible for addressing unwanted inflation. It has clearly indicated its intention to fight inflation, and it has the tools to do so while remaining attentive to its dual mandate from Congress to promote both stable prices and maximum employment. The President and Congress should get back to the negotiating table and agree on an economic package to help families meet everyday challenges and strengthen our economy.

Number of the Day
5,090 –
Number of Louisiana families in poverty receiving monthly cash payments through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in 2018-19. The state had 130,769 families with children living in poverty that year (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)