Hunger on campus

Hunger on campus

An estimated 4 in 10 Louisiana college students – many of them older and “nontraditional” – sometimes experience food insecurity. Rep. Barbara Freiberg’s House Bill 888 aims to combat the problem by having campuses designated as “hunger free” if they meet certain benchmarks, such as notifying students if they’re eligible for food assistance and establishing an on-campus food pantry. The bill sailed through the House Education Committee on Tuesday, and The Advocate’s Will Sentell was there

Kimberly Hayes, a graduate student at LSU and Southern University alumni, told the House Education Committee something as basic as ensuring students have access to meals needs state attention. “As a non-traditional student there were times when I needed this support,” Hayes said. “When you thought you had done all the right things to better yourself, trained for better opportunities, sometimes the basic necessities are not there.” … Chris Broadwater, vice-president for workforce policies for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said food pantries can make a huge difference knowing the average student in his system is a 28-year-old woman with children.

Gulf Coast, Mississippi River cities eager for flood funding
The federal government is making funding available to communities along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River to protect against increased flooding caused by climate change. But community groups and advocates fear that smaller cities will have a harder time navigating the maze of federal programs to actually receive the help they need. The AP’s Michael Phillis reports on the small-town residents who hope the funding from President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package will keep their homes above water. 

The Biden administration is asking states to make climate resilience a part of their long-term planning and encouraging projects that factor in flood risk. It tapped Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, to help coordinate the law’s implementation and outreach to communities “There needs to be a concerted effort by the administration and federal government to engage states and localities now,” said Forbes Tompkins, a flood policy expert at Pew Charitable Trusts.

But Times-Picayune columnist Bob Marshall writes that Louisiana isn’t doing nearly enough to combat the existential threat posed by rising temperatures and extreme weather. 

(I)t’s likely many Louisianans missed a series of recent reports, critical to any future we might have here, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of the smartest people in the world on climate. The last report, released two weeks ago, said the world has about eight years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or face making the impacts already being felt more severe and lasting. Those include record wildfires, heat waves, droughts, flooding rainfalls, larger hurricanes, sea level rise and more. This should have been the hottest topic at our Legislature and our media. After all, Louisiana is one of the most vulnerable spots on the planet to climate change because our coastal zone — basically an area from Lake Charles to Mandeville — is sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world.

Letting elderly live at home
Louisiana’s powerful nursing home industry has long enjoyed a near-monopoly on state Medicaid financing for long-term care – including legal and constitutional protections that ensure their funding is protected even during financial downturns. Advocates for home- and community-based services, meanwhile, have been fighting for scraps. House Bill 645 by Rep. Tanner Magee would help balance the scales slightly by requiring the Legislature to set aside some money for waiver slots in years when general fund revenues come in above expectations. The Advocate approves:

The proposed dedication does have an impact on the general fund, something that should be carefully watched, but nursing homes have for years benefited from constitutional dedications for their services. The Magee bill, which has support from AARP Louisiana, would modestly redress the balance. It directs money to a permanent fund when tax collections exceed the official state budget forecast. That would provide some money to deal with the backlog of services needed. We encourage legislators to back it. 

Millions closer to student loan forgiveness 
A move by President Joe Biden on Tuesday will bring millions of borrowers closer to receiving forgiveness for their student loans. The new actions aim to correct past mistakes by loan providers of steering borrowers into forbearance, which allows for a temporary stop in payments, instead of an income-driven repayment program (IDR). While forbearance can be an easy solution for borrowers struggling to make monthly payments, it’s sometimes better for borrowers to enroll in an IDR program so they can continue making low payments while also getting credit toward loan forgiveness. CNN’s Katie Lobosco reports

“Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence, but it’s certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they’re eligible for,” said US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement. “Today, the Department of Education will begin to remedy years of administrative failures that effectively denied the promise of loan forgiveness to certain borrowers enrolled in IDR plans,” he added. Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dick Durbin of Illinois called on the Department of Education last week to investigate mismanagement of the IDR program and to provide borrowers with debt relief. The lawmakers’ letter cited a recent report from NPR that found that very few borrowers were able to get the loan forgiveness they were promised by the IDR program.

Programming note
The Louisiana Budget Project, together with community partners, crafted A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana that recommends ways the state can invest its one-time resources in the people and communities that suffered the most from the pandemic and natural disasters. You are invited to a webinar on Friday April 22, at 12 p.m., where LBP and partner organizations will discuss how we can use surplus dollars to build stronger, more resilient homes and communities, train workers for the jobs of tomorrow, ensure young children have safe places to learn and grow while their parents work, and strengthen the safety net for families that fall on hard times. Register here

Number of the Day
61% – Percentage growth in medical marijuana patients in Louisiana from the fourth quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of this year, when smokable “flower” became available legally. (Source: The Advocate)