The state Department of Children and Family Services, charged with caring for Louisiana’s most vulnerable residents, is badly understaffed with high rates of employee turnover among the front-line workers who handle cases of child abuse and neglect. High caseloads and low pay have made it difficult for the agency to retain caseworkers. The result is that children who suffer from neglect or abuse sometimes don’t get the help they need. The Advocate’s Blake Paterson reports:
In New Orleans, the staffing shortage is particularly dire. DCFS is about 35 caseworkers short of what’s necessary to meet the Crescent City’s demand for child welfare services, according to Rhenda Hodnett, an assistant secretary at the department. … Part of the problem is low wages. Entry-level social workers at DCFS are required to have a four-year college degree. But their salaries start at just under $30,000. And as the “boots on the ground” for DCFS, working directly with SNAP recipients and investigating allegations of child abuse, their work is often the most grueling.
A “clean hydrogen hub” in Louisiana?
Louisiana plans to partner with Arkansas and Oklahoma in an effort to claim a portion of $9.5 billion set aside by the federal government for “clean hydrogen” projects. The money was included in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and will be awarded to states on a competitive basis. As Halle Parker of WWNO-FM reports, environmentalists say such projects aren’t as clean as they sound, and are unlikely to help the state reach its goal of being a “net zero” emitter of greenhouse gasses by 2050.
One peer-reviewed study has suggested that methane — a potent greenhouse gas — released while drilling and transporting natural gas might make blue hydrogen worse for the environment than simply burning the gas used to create it, though industry and other researchers argue it oversimplifies the process. Some environmental groups have also called carbon capture “unproven” as it’s uncertain whether storing carbon underground permanently is possible. They also argue these sites, and the pipelines needed for transport, are often situated near or in low-income or minority communities, perpetuating the placement of environmental hazards near vulnerable groups.
Cleaning up orphaned wells
Abandoned “orphan” oil and gas wells pose hazards to the environment and to surrounding communities. That’s why the new federal infrastructure law set aside $4.7 billion to clean up orphaned wells across the country. Legislation filed this legislative session by state Sen. Bret Allain would position Louisiana to receive $200 million of that money to clean up the approximately 4,600 orphaned wells on state lands. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller has more on Senate Bill 245:
“We never imagined that we would have this kind of money,” Allain said. Under current law, the state can fix non-priority wells only if doing so doesn’t limit the number of priority sites that could have been restored in a given fiscal year. The legislation would, among other things, give the Natural Resources secretary the authority to package together more non-priority wells into attractive bid packages. The expanded authority must be used to decrease, “in a cost effective manner,” the total number of orphaned wells, the bill states. “It really gives them the flexibility to get the most bang for the buck,” Allain said.
Disaster resilience workforce development
A new workforce development program aims to create a workforce that can support flood-reduction projects and build Louisiana’s disaster defense. As the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Julia-Claire Evans explains, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ PRO Louisiana program will offer students at six state community colleges the opportunity to work on flood mitigation projects that will be completed over the next few years.
The skills taught through the program are important to disaster recovery and mitigation efforts. The first phase of the PRO Louisiana program, which LWI is completing in partnership with both the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and Louisiana Economic Development, will focus on heavy equipment operator training. There’s been more than $400 million in federal funding allocated toward flood mitigation throughout Louisiana for projects to be completed over the next few years, Edwards says, and these trained professionals will work on a number of the projects.
Number of the Day
$100 million – Proposed investment in the Early Childhood Education Fund. The Legislature created the Early Childhood Education Fund to provide matching dollars to parishes that provide such programming, but it has not been fully funded. (Source: A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana)