School lunches are a critical lifeline

School lunches are a critical lifeline

Americans with low incomes have been hit with multiple rounds of bad news in recent months. Inflation has raised the price of basic necessities such as rent and groceries; and federal income-support programs that helped families make ends meet, such as the expanded Child Tax Credit, have been allowed to expire. Now Congress is on the verge of making things worse by allowing a federal waiver to expire that lets schools provide free meals to all students. Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, elaborates in a letter to The Washington Post

A systematic review of 47 studies found that providing meals at no charge to all students reduces children’s food insecurity, improves diet quality and boosts academic achievement. It also eases financial burdens on school food service departments, which have lost billions of dollars since 2020 and still face major staff shortages and supply chain challenges. The economic head winds driving the recent increase in food insecurity will not abate anytime soon. The policy of school meals for all has been a rock in a raging sea. Extending it through the 2022-2023 school year, and seriously considering making it permanent, should be national priorities.

Jailing children for smoking weed
Louisiana’s successful efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession – which only took effect last year with a law that eliminates jail time or heavy fines for anyone caught with less than half an ounce – are in danger of being rolled back. House Bill 700, currently moving through the Legislature, would impose new criminal penalties for children caught with the drug, including several years of prison time for repeat offenders. Supporters claim the harsh penalties are needed to keep the drug off school campuses, but the Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports that there are other ways to keep kids out of our state’s broken juvenile justice system

“We don’t think we should be criminalizing youth more harshly than adults,” said Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress. Other methods to get children and teenagers into drug treatment are available through the court system as well, said Megan Garvey with the Louisiana Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. Family court judges can mandate that guardians and parents put children in rehabilitative programs and place minors on probation, she said.

Protection for renters after storms
A bill that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants for at least 30 days after a federally declared natural disaster advanced out of the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on Tuesday. House Bill 160 by Rep. Mandie Landry seeks to tackle a problem that became common after Hurricane Ida: landlords evicting tenants on the basis of abandonment because they had to evacuate or their home was damaged, and they couldn’t return for 30 days. BR Proud’s Shannon Heckt reports:

“It was heartbreaking. You have kids having nowhere to go, being kicked out, having to be put in a tent,” Rep. [Tanner] Magee said. He said there were bad actors looking to capitalize on the disaster. Many people did not know the laws regarding if they could be evicted during the early days of the recovery, this bill looks to make some clarification. “What we needed was people to work with people to keep them in housing and we had the opposite by some of the landlords in Terrebonne Parish where they were evicting people or even worse than that they were giving the appearance of evicting people to scare them out of their dwelling,” Rep. Magee said.

Building roads is getting more expensive
Soaring construction costs could sap the spending power of the funds states are set to receive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The cost of materials used to build highways and bridges has increased by 21% in the last year. Other factors, like shortages of trucks and truck drivers, have also contributed to the increase. Route Fifty’s Daniel C. Vock details the challenges that state officials in Michigan are facing in building something very dear to Louisiana lawmakers’ hearts: a new bridge. 

The biggest increases have been for bridge projects, which are 40% higher than the agency predicted, (Jeff) Cranson (of the Michigan Department of Transportation) said. Hot mix asphalt, which includes some petroleum products, is up 15% and aggregate – like sand, gravel and crushed stone – has increased by 10% for the agency, Cranson said. … But putting off projects could have long-term consequences, especially in Michigan, where state leaders have struggled for years to find a way to pay for needed maintenance and repairs. 

Number of the Day
$13,421 –
Difference between the average salary for faculty at four-year public colleges in Louisiana ($72,151) and the Southern Regional average ($85,572) (Source: Louisiana House Fiscal Division)