A dog-and-pony roadshow

A dog-and-pony roadshow

Leading up to this year’s special session to redraw Louisiana’s political maps, legislators did an impressive job of soliciting the public’s input. But, as Steven Procopio and Melinda Deslatte of the Public Affairs Research Council explain in The Advocate, legislators then went on to ignore those comments when it came time to draw the maps:

The House and Senate disregarded many of the public comments and much of the hours of testimony they received and fell into age-old patterns of protecting incumbent officials, political parties, and personal allies. Put charitably, this was a good session for fans of the status quo. Lawmakers rejected overwhelming calls from people who attended hearings around the state and at the Louisiana Capitol to expand the number of majority-minority districts across several of the maps. It’s not clear the legislature made any significant changes to district lines, big or small, based on citizen input.

As BRProud.com’s Raychelle Riley reports, A coalition of civil rights groups is calling on Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto the maps.

Opposing groups said the maps don’t represent the increase in minority populations. They also said the maps violate the Voting Rights Act which provides equal opportunity to participate in the political process. “It basically stops any possibility of minorities running in my area, running for anything,” said State Representative Kenny Cox. The groups said they’re counting on the governor to set the record straight.

America’s Covid relief worked—bring it back
When Covid-19 arrived in America, millions of people suddenly found themselves out of work as states rushed to save lives by limiting the spread of the virus. Without government aid, that necessary public health response would have thrown 9 million people into poverty. Instead, Covid relief worked in a big way, lifting nearly as many people above the poverty line despite the ongoing public health crisis. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities breaks down how effective the government’s pandemic response was—and why Congress should continue pandemic-era policies to address ongoing and serious economic need:

When government assistance is included, the number of people with annual income below the poverty line fell in 2020 by the largest amount on record: 8 million. Without government assistance, the number of people in poverty would have risen in 2020 by the second-largest amount on record: 9 million. Government assistance protected those with moderate incomes as well as people below the poverty line, preventing 33 million people in 2020 from falling below a family income of $40,000, up from 14 million in 2019. Poverty would not have fallen in 2020 without the newly enacted policies. Income from just two programs — unemployment insurance (consisting mostly of temporary eligibility and benefit expansions) and newly enacted Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) — lifted the 2020 incomes of 17 million people above the poverty line, reducing the number of people below the poverty line by more than one-third.

TOPS drops show Covid’s costs
Multiple major hurricanes and a prolonged pandemic made high school and college substantially more difficult for many Louisiana students. Now, as the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, amid dropping enrollment numbers at Louisiana’s colleges and universities, the number of students qualifying for TOPS scholarships has hit a five-year low:

A preliminary enrollment survey from the state Board of Regents, which oversees higher education, found a 26% decrease in enrollment at Louisiana colleges and universities for the fall 2021 semester. Accompanying that drop was a 3.1% reduction in the number of students who qualified for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS. Out of 37,519 Louisiana high school graduates in the class of 2021 who were processed for eligibility, there were 24,653 or 65.7% who qualified for TOPS, said Dr. Sujuan Boutte, executive director of the Louisiana Office for Student Financial Assistance. The TOPS qualifier count is the lowest since 2016 when 24,634 high school graduates earned the scholarship. “It’s not a real big secret that K-12 in ’19, ’20 and 2021 were not the best years for students,” Boutte told the Board of Regents at its meeting Wednesday.

Make SNAP benefits adequate for seniors
Before the pandemic, many seniors who qualified for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also called Food Stamps), struggled to get by with meager benefits, often as low as $20 a month. But Covid-era policy changes offered many seniors a big boost, substantially increasing monthly benefits. Now, a new report by the Food Research and Action Center and the AARP Foundation documents how permanently boosting SNAP benefits would make a real difference in the lives of American seniors. 

Donna* is a retired retail manager from Idaho. Throughout her interview, Donna stated that food is the first part of her budget to be reduced, along with gas for her car. When asked about how she budgets for food, Donna stated, “I have a budget for it [food], I know that I easily have to spend at least $100 a month. I mean, that’s the least amount … I buy what I need with what I’ve got. So if I don’t have enough cash, don’t have enough food stamps (SNAP benefits), I don’t buy groceries. So I have to eat less.” Unfortunately, this occurs almost every month and Donna visits her local food bank to try to make up for the food that she cannot afford. … During the pandemic when Donna received the emergency allotments, she described being able to buy nutritious food for the first time in what seemed like forever, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and stated that having a bigger budget for food was of utmost importance to her happiness and overall well-being. Since the emergency allotments have ended in her state, Donna has had to revert back to her previous spending habits and said that it has been hard on her mentally and financially.

Number of the Day
8 million – Drop in the number of people in America living in poverty in 2020, thanks to the federal government’s Covid relief efforts. This was the largest annual decline in poverty on record; without government aid, the number of people in poverty in America would have risen by 9 million, the second-largest increase on record (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)