Infrastructure dollars come with climate challenges

Infrastructure dollars come with climate challenges

The new federal infrastructure law will invest more than $1 trillion over the next five years in roads, bridges and other construction projects. While billions of dollars are being used to build charging stations for electric vehicles and public transit, significantly more money will go toward road projects that could significantly increase carbon emissions. As Brad Plumer writes for the New York Times, some states – including Colorado – hope to use these dollars in ways that won’t worsen climate change:

Over the coming decade, the decisions that Colorado and other states make about how many new roads to build could have major consequences for America’s ability to tackle climate change. Transportation is the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases, producing 29 percent of emissions, and has been stubbornly difficult to clean up. … “This is a major blind spot for politicians who say they care about climate change,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “Everyone gets that oil pipelines are carbon infrastructure. But new highways are carbon infrastructure, too. Both lock in place 40 to 50 years of emissions.”

To address this issue, Colorado recently approved new rules that require communities to limit the overall greenhouse gas emissions that would result from building new roads by offsetting such projects with greener alternatives such as shuttles, public transportation and light rail. But moving away from a car-first infrastructure mindset will be challenging:

“We’ve been building communities oriented around cars and single-family homes pretty much since World War II,” said Andrew Gunning, executive director of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which oversees the rapidly growing region around Colorado Springs. “Trying to retrofit and change how we build those communities is going to be a monumental undertaking.”

Medicaid coverage at risk as Covid protections end
The federal declaration of a public health emergency for Covid is set to end on April 16, ending the rules that protect Medicaid coverage for enrollees during the pandemic. Rachana Pradhan reports for NPR that, barring an extension of the emergency declaration, millions of people could lose their coverage in coming months: 

Before the public health crisis, states regularly reviewed whether people still qualified for the safety-net program, based on their income or perhaps their age or disability status. While those routines have been suspended for the past two years, enrollment climbed to record highs. As of July, 76.7 million people, or nearly 1 in 4 Americans, were enrolled, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. When the public health emergency ends, state Medicaid officials face a huge job of reevaluating each person’s eligibility and connecting with people whose jobs, income, and housing might have been upended in the pandemic. People could lose their coverage if they earn too much or don’t provide the information their state needs to verify their income or residency.

Parenting students need more support
About 1-in-5 college students are primary caregivers for a child. A new brief from the Hope Center finds that policies in place to help such students are inadequate, and that some make getting a degree harder. The authors reviewed surveys from more than 30,000 students and found that challenges meeting basic needs while in school fell disproportionately on students of color and single-parent students: 

The pandemic heightened the basic needs risks of parenting students. The help available is not reaching those who need it most. Structural racism limits generational wealth for people of color, especially Black people, and entrenches racial barriers to degree completion that make the financial hurdles of college especially risky. Plus, aid programs often exclude students or disincentivize postsecondary enrollment. Targeted interventions are urgently needed to address the staggering rate of basic needs insecurity parenting students of color and their children experience, particularly among single parents of young children and Black fathers.

The brief recommends that states overhaul financial aid programs that discriminate against parents, prioritize parenting students for child care assistance, allow college coursework to fulfill TANF work requirements and increase funding for programs that support parents on college campuses.

Solidifying the status quo 
With veto-proof supermajority votes, Louisiana’s state House and Senate approved new district maps for their own chambers on Monday that fail to increase the number of Black-majority districts.  Tyler Bridges and Will Sentel for The Advocate report that Black lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to amend the maps to add more minority representation: 

The Senate plan would maintain 11 Black-majority districts, while the House plan would keep 29. Rep. Denise Marcelle and Sen. Ed Price, both of whom are Black, said those numbers should increase since Louisiana has more Black residents compared to 10 years ago and fewer White people. Marcelle and Price said both plans underrepresent the 33% Black population in Louisiana. Cortez countered that drawing more Black-majority districts would require extensive gerrymandering – oddly-shaped boundaries drawn solely for political purposes.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is still weighing whether to use his veto power to reject maps that don’t increase Black representation. Greg Larose of the Louisiana Illuminator reports that Edwards called the congressional maps “very problematic” but that he hasn’t decided on a veto. 

Number of the Day
120,700 – Total applications for Emergency Rental Assistance Program in Louisiana from mid-March through late January (Source: Daily Advertiser)