The Legislature closed its special redistricting session with maps that are neither fair nor, according to some experts, legal. They fail to account for demographic shifts in Louisiana that increased the percentage of the state’s Black and Brown populations. They also bake-in historic inequities in representation that have held the Pelican State back for decades. Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice explains in Truthout how these maps will harm Louisiana if they aren’t redrawn:
As we think about redistricting, we should ground it in the broader fight for freedom. As Davante Lewis, director of public affairs and outreach for the Louisiana Budget Project, noted in his testimony before the House Governmental Affairs Committee, Black people have endured decades of trauma. Legislators can help ensure progress by drawing fair maps and allowing voters of color to elect candidates of their choice. To gaslight voters by downplaying their population growth is a continuation of their traumatic history.
The Legislature worked very hard on new maps for political districts. And we see its product, generated by an elaborate incumbent protection racket, as in serious trouble when — not if — it goes to the federal courts. (…) The Voting Rights Act doesn’t guarantee election results, but it does clearly enough suggest that an incumbent-protection orgy in a state with significantly underrepresented minority populations isn’t in the letter or spirit of federal law.
Surviving or sinking
Access to government assistance is often the difference between a family surviving or sinking financially. In Louisiana, where 1 in 4 children live in poverty, when parents miss out on government benefits they’re entitled to receive, their children suffer through unstable housing, poor nutrition and the many other challenges and indignities of poverty. Yet, as Bryce Covert writes in The New York Times, programs that serve the lowest-income households often come with barriers that make them difficult to access, while government benefits for the well-off are often seamless and arrive automatically. We need to do better.
One of the biggest barriers to government benefits is all of the red tape to untangle, particularly for programs that serve low-income people. They were the ones wrangling with the I.R.S.’s nonfiler portal while others got their payments automatically. Benefits delivered through the tax code, which flow so easily that many people don’t think of them as government benefits at all, mostly help the already well-off. Programs for the poor, on the other hand, tend to be bloated with barriers like income tests, work requirements and in-person interviews. It’s not just about applying once, either; many require people to continually recertify, going through the process over and over again.
Prioritizing an equitable recovery
It has been six months since Hurricane Ida swept through Southeast Louisiana, leaving damaged homes and devastated communities in its wake. While sufficient government aid has been slow to arrive, community groups like Louisiana Just Recovery Network came together to help vulnerable residents recover and rebuild. Michael Esealuka shares the story in Southerly, highlighting the urgent need for solutions to the root causes of inequitable recoveries:
According to the Louisiana Budget Project, the state has a surplus of over $1.6 billion that could be allocated during this year’s legislative session. More is on the way: Louisiana is poised to receive billions in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, and FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which means money is on the table to sustainably rebuild communities able to withstand flooding and storms. (…) “The two hours that Ida passed over my home were the most frightening two hours of my life. As my roof blew off I talked to God, because I didn’t know who else to talk to, ” said Myrtle Felton, co-founder of Inclusive Louisiana. “Our leaders must take a close look at what causes these storms to be so intense. We need real solutions to the root issues: pollution and injustice.”
Unions work for workers
St. Tammany Parish bus drivers haven’t seen a change in their base pay in decades. Still, they faithfully carried the parish’s children to and from school each day, and they did so throughout a global pandemic. Now, after months of tensions including a sickout by drivers frustrated over an offer they said would leave them without resources to keep their school buses in good repair, the drivers’ union and the parish school board have come to terms. Sara Pagones of The Advocate | NOLA.com reports:
Bus drivers get a starting salary of $25,850 a year for 177 work days. (St. Tammany Parish School Board member Elizabeth ) Heintz said it is the state’s operational pay formula that has not gone up since the 1980s and said drivers have received an additional $1,200 a year in parish money since 2010 and also receive a fuel allotment that is adjusted monthly. But driver Barbara Sharp said that the $1,200 payment was supposed to have been a stopgap measure with a solution to come in collective bargaining. “We look forward to this year’s negotiations. For the first time we’ll have a real negotiation, and the employees are really looking forward to it,” she said.
Number of the Day
3.7 million – Increase in the number of American children in poverty in January 2022, after the Child Tax Credit expired (Source: NBC News)