Louisiana’s financial picture brightened considerably on Tuesday, when a state forecasting panel recognized $1.6 billion in extra revenue that the state can spend over the next 18 months. The new revenue comes in addition to $1.4 billion in federal pandemic relief that the Legislature must allocate during its upcoming session, along with a budget surplus from last year estimated at $500 million. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports that the higher-than-expected collections of personal income taxes, corporate income taxes and sales taxes sprung from robust federal pandemic aid, hurricane recovery dollars and the ongoing economic recovery:
Over the past two years, the Louisiana Legislature has prioritized much of its excess funding for road and bridge projects. On Tuesday, Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said he anticipates using at least some of the money for those purposes again. Some bridge and road projects the Legislature recently approved need more money than expected because of inflation and an increase in building material costs, he said. … Some of federal pandemic money could also go to strengthening the state’s unemployment trust fund. Louisiana, along with several other states, depleted its unemployment trust fund in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was a surge in people applying for unemployment assistance.
The Legislature, which has virtually no restrictions on how to allocate the newly recognized money, should prioritize the people and communities that have suffered the most during the pandemic. Teachers and other front-line workers remain underpaid, college campuses are in disrepair, and there is a dire need for affordable housing.
Centering Black women in our recovery policy
The overall unemployment rate dropped in December, but the bird’s eye view of the labor market blurs out what’s happening on the ground: The unemployment rate for Black women rose to 6.2%—double the rate for white women. Hannah Miao and Nate Rattner of CNBC write that the disparity shows our uneven recovery from the pandemic:
The disparity in unemployment progress for Black women speaks to the uneven labor-force recovery throughout the Covid pandemic, according to Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “What the December numbers signaled to me is that we are in for a bumpy, tumultuous ride ahead in terms of our recovery, especially for Black women and women of color workers who have been disproportionately impacted over the course of the pandemic,” Mason said. The unemployment rate for women overall was 3.6% in December, 2.6 percentage points lower than that of Black women.
Grocery workers struggle to stay fed
Grocery store workers were hailed as heroes in the early months of the pandemic, and Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery store chain, paid its employees an extra $2 an hour as hazard pay in the early months of the outbreak. But that hazard pay is now long gone, and the essential retail workers who put food on store shelves and serve customers are struggling more than ever. Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha reports on the challenges facing grocery workers in the newest wave of Covid-19:
As a result, many remain in financial circumstances every bit as precarious as they were before the pandemic began. In a survey of around 36,000 Kroger hourly workers in Colorado, Washington, and California, commissioned by their local United Food and Commercial unions and released this week, 42% of respondents said they relied on borrowing money from friends or family to pay for basic needs over the last year, 34% said they cut portion sizes or skipped meals because they couldn’t afford food, and 14% said they were unhoused.
Protecting the right to vote
America is seeing a wave of new voting restrictions, extreme gerrymandered maps and election subversion laws. President Joe Biden went to Atlanta on Tuesday to forcefully advocate for changing the U.S. Senate filibuster rule to pass new voting rights legislation to protect our democracy. Louisiana House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Randal L. Gaines echoed the need for Congress to act in a letter in The Advocate:
We are undermining the cause of democracy when we allow vital national objectives to become constricted by an inhibiting procedural measure, as opposed to being guided by the overriding objective of preserving the most important component of our democracy. I cannot imagine a more compelling reason for setting aside the filibuster than the imperative cause of protecting the right to vote.
Reminder: Special Session on Redistricting
The Legislature has called itself into a special session to tackle redistricting for the Legislature, UY.S. Congress, BESE, the state Public Service Commission and the Supreme Court. You can read the session’s call here.
Number of the Day
613 – Number of reported Covid cases among students and faculty in East Baton Rouge Parish public schools last Friday, leading to 1,589 quarantines. A union representing some EBR teachers called for a “sickout” on Wednesday as part of a demand for virtual instruction. (Source: The Advocate)