For the last six months of 2021, the federal government found a novel way to make sure fewer children were living in poverty: It sent money each month to families earning low- to moderate incomes, in the form of advance payments of the Child Tax Credits. But those payments were cut off this month, when Congress failed to renew them as the president’s Build Back Better legislation stalled in the Senate. The Guardian’s Zack Harold traveled to the West Virginia home base of Sen. Joe Manchin, whose opposition helped sink the legislation, to understand how families there are being affected.
Ninety-three per cent of West Virginia children – about 346,000 in all – qualified for the credit payments. That extra $250 to $300 per child a month lifted about 50,000 of those children above the poverty line, according to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy (WVCBP). Now that the credits have vanished, so will those advancements. The timing could not be worse. Like the rest of the country, West Virginia is suffering a surge in inflation unseen in decades, a surge that disproportionately affects the poor. “The checks aren’t coming on,” said the WVCBP executive director, Kelly Allen. “Fifty thousand kids in West Virginia are at risk are dropping into deep poverty.”
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chuck Marr estimates that 187,000 children in Louisiana are at risk of slipping back below the poverty line – or deeper into poverty – if the tax credit is not extended, and says the failure to act comes at a particularly bad time:
The timing of the loss of monthly Child Tax Credit payments is particularly harsh. Many parents are missing work due to the steep rise in COVID-19 cases — they or a family member are ill or required to quarantine, for example, or their children’s school or child care provider had to close partially or entirely. When people with lower-paid jobs miss work, they often have no paid leave and their family budget can quickly become even tighter.
Redistricting and Black representation
The Louisiana Legislature faces some daunting math when it convenes next month to redraw district lines for the state House and Senate. While activists cite the need for more Black-majority districts to more accurately reflect the state’s racial makeup, many existing Black districts have experienced a loss of population since the 2010 Census. While some suspect that Black Louisianans were undercounted in the 2020 Census, The Advocate’s Mark Ballard and Blake Paterson report that 10 of the 11 legislative districts that lost the most population during the past decade have Black representation:
All of that is true and certainly helps describe why so many Black districts need repopulating, said Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, a grassroots organization involved in redistricting. But the larger reason is a consequence of history. Over past decades legislators drew maps that packed as many African Americans as possible into a district. The handful of Black people that couldn’t be packed into a majority Black district were sprinkled through several predominantly White districts. “People don’t understand how gerrymandered our maps have been over the years. We basically crack and pack people of color and have for years,” Shelton said
Most of the attention around redistricting is expected to focus on legislative and congressional districts. But The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that civil rights leaders are hoping to add a new majority-Black district to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Jim Garvey, the president of BESE, said he and others on the 11-member board are generally content with the current boundaries, which have been in effect for the past decade. But critics say BESE’s makeup needs changes, in part because Black students make up nearly half of the state’s public school population but just 27% of BESE members. … The board, which oversees public schools statewide, consists of eight elected members and three named by the governor. The current lineup includes two majority-minority districts, which means a district in which Black residents, who make up a minority of the state’s population, comprise a majority of the BESE district.
It’s time to raise the wage
The cost of living rose 7% last year – the highest rate of inflation in four decades – yet the hourly minimum wage in Louisiana remained at the federal minimum of $7.25. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Economic Policy Institute reports that 21 states raised their minimum wage on Jan. 1, and that 39 localities across the country now have minimum wage levels above the federal minimum. Eleven of those wage increases are the result of legislation passed at the state level, while nine states automatically raised their minimum wage to reflect the cost of living. Missouri’s wage increase was due to a ballot initiative.
(W)e know that minimum wage increases are as crucial as ever in the current context—to protect low-wage workers from exploitation and continue toward the goal of a living wage for all workers. From a macroeconomic perspective, it’s smart policy: Low-wage households—who disproportionately benefit from increases to the minimum wage—are highly likely to quickly spend the extra dollars they receive, bolstering consumer demand as the economy continues to recover.
The legacy of Dr. King
In the decades since his birthday became a federal holiday, Dr. Martin Luther King’s enduring legacy has been embraced across the ideological spectrum. In recent months many conservatives have tried to use King’s quotes to condemn the protests against police violence and systemic racism that swept the country in 2020. Naia Nigel Hoskin, writing on Forbes.com, argues that this warm-and-fuzzy interpretation of Dr. King distorts what he stood for:
But because many white Americans and conservatives view racism as an individual sin or moral failure of ethos, rather than a cancerous system that requires community and governmental reform, Dr. King’s writings and teachings on love and patience make for convenient fodder for warm-and-fuzzy quotes. Which ultimately allows racists to feel better about being racist, some whites to feel more comfortable unapologetically wallowing in their racial privilege, and outwardly condemns any responses to experiences with racism that do not reflect patience and kindness.
Number of the Day
91% – Percentage of households with incomes below $35,000 who spent their Child Tax Credit monthly payments on basic necessities such as food, utilities, rent, clothing or education costs (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)