Housing nightmare as pandemic relief ends

Housing nightmare as pandemic relief ends

The federal government responded quickly in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic with multiple rounds of relief that helped low-income families stay financially afloat as the economy shut down. Thanks to federal aid, the national poverty rate actually fell in 2020. But many of those relief programs have been allowed to lapse, leaving millions of families once again on the financial brink. The Washington Post’s Morgan Baskin tells the story of Holly Williams, a working mom in the District of Columbia who is struggling to stay in her home. 

Williams’s case is not unique. Across the country, millions of people who have managed to scrape through some of the worst months of their lives are staring into a future made even more uncertain by the hasty dismantling of the pandemic benefits that helped them get by. The experiences of Williams and other families over the past several years illustrates how the temporary expansion of programs such as rapid rehousing staved off disaster. They also underscore the insufficiency of America’s social safety net, which is growing more woefully inadequate just as it’s needed the most.

Benefits cut didn’t work
Louisiana was among 26 states that prematurely cut off enhanced federal unemployment benefits last year. The move was pushed by conservatives in the Legislature, who argued that the extra benefits (Louisiana’s unemployment benefits are the lowest in the country) were keeping people from applying for available jobs. It turns out they were wrong — and that laid off workers paid a steep price for that bad policy choice. Kelsey Carolan explains in The Hill

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco contradicted the theory that expanded benefits disincentivize people from returning to work, which many Republican state leaders argued when they cut the expanded benefits granted by the federal government. “We find that the UI withdrawals had limited direct impacts on hiring rates, which suggests the enhanced UI benefits were not an important source of labor shortages in 2021,” the report states. … This report seems to reaffirm an August 2021 study that found for every eight workers who lost benefits prematurely, just one found a job. To compensate, there was a dramatic reduction in spending, suggesting that people who lost benefits early found themselves facing financial hardships.

Fighting college hunger
As many as 4 in 10 Louisiana college students suffer from food insecurity, meaning they struggle to get enough to eat. Many of them are “nontraditional” – older students, often with children, or going back to school after years in the workforce. Legislation by Rep. Barbara Freiberg of Baton Rouge would encourage colleges and universities to address the problem by connecting students with community resources and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Times-Picayune columnist James Gill approves

We long ago abandoned any notion that universities should be the preserve of an intellectual elite, and more and more people will need degrees as the “knowledge economy” takes an even firmer hold. The pangs of hunger must be banished from campuses if society is to produce graduates at the desired rate. Relax. The state Legislature is working on it, with a bill that has already breezed through a House committee. The bill, by Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge. would enable higher education institutions to have their campuses declared “hunger-free” and qualify for state grants. They would do so by ensuring food is provided for students and holding “at least one anti-hunger awareness event” every year.

PAR on ‘pork’
The Louisiana House set aside $57 million in next year’s spending plans for local priorities sought by individual legislators. The money is going to local parks, playgrounds, churches, fire departments, libraries and other parochial priorities. Lawmakers allocated the money without public debate or vetting, and the Public Affairs Research Council thinks such earmarks should be eliminated: 

The approach lacks transparency, squanders the short term budget largesse and appears aimed at election bids and politics rather than state priorities. Lawmakers instead should focus on the broader needs of the state with targeted outcomes, rather than parochial projects. In some instances, requests for money to pay for police equipment, fire trucks, community soup kitchens and recreational center improvements may represent true needs in lawmakers’ districts. However, those should be funded with local dollars and only after public discussion about the value of the project.

Number of the Day
$5.5 billion – Annual damage to Louisiana’s coastal communities from hurricanes if no new mitigation measures are taken. That’s double the estimate from just five years ago (Source: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority via The Times-Picayune)