Investing in a recovery agenda

Investing in a recovery agenda

The past two years have shown us that low-income families and communities of color often suffer the most when pandemics and natural disasters strike, and that the dream of an equitable Louisiana economy where everyone has an equal shot at success remains elusive in a state with deep and entrenched poverty. But the state’s financial picture is currently the brightest it’s been in a generation, thanks to an influx of federal pandemic relief and better-than-expected tax collections. The Recovery Agenda for Louisiana, crafted by the Louisiana Budget Project and community partners, shows what it would look like to prioritize low-income families and communities of color as the Legislature debates how to spend more than $3 billion in extra cash. LBP’s Jackson Voss and Jan Moller elaborate in a guest column for The Advocate:  

A Recovery Agenda for Louisiana would provide direct financial support for frontline workers who risked their lives to keep our economy going during the pandemic. It would mean building deeply affordable housing and emergency shelters so we’ll be better prepared for the next disaster. It would mean laying the foundations for a paid sick leave program and universal pre-kindergarten, while also expanding critical services that help low-income families and at-risk youth. We can do all this while also making Louisiana more competitive for additional federal funds included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in coming years. But these are not opportunities we can afford to waste, as we are unlikely to see this level of federal and state funding again anytime soon. 

Support for Early Childhood in New Orleans
Early voting is underway in advance of the April 30 elections, when voters in three southeast Louisiana parishes will vote on proposed new taxes. The most consequential of these votes is happening in New Orleans, where a 5-mill, 20-year property tax is earmarked for early childhood education. If approved, it would provide programming for 1,000 economically disadvantaged children, a number that could double if the state comes up with matching dollars as promised. The Times-Picayune editorial board is supportive

There can be no debate over the value of investing in early childhood education. Research shows it helps kids thrive in school, prepare to enter the workforce and avoid bad outcomes in adulthood, from disease to poverty to involvement in crime. It also enables their parents to fully participate in the economy. … The New Orleans City Council recently approved a five-year agreement with the Orleans Parish School Board and Agenda for Children, a nonprofit that administers the existing City Seats program, which is financed through the city’s general fund and serves 200 children ages three and under, a period of peak brain development (the state match provides another 200 spots). Revenue from the millage would greatly expand City Seats.

Medicaid programs stuck in the past
The Louisiana Department of Health – and health agencies across the country – have been working for months to prepare for the official end of the Public Health Emergency, when the state can start reviewing whether people enrolled in Medicaid are still eligible for coverage or if their income is too high to qualify. It’s a complex logistical task that risks stripping health coverage from low-income people if they don’t respond to letters or phone calls from the state. One way to reduce the chance of such snafus is to communicate via text message. But Phil Galevitz of Kaiser Health News reports that only 11 states are using text messaging to communicate with Medicaid recipients despite the urgency of making sure everyone who is eligible continues to be covered. 

In 2019, Louisiana worked with the nonprofit group Code for America to send text messages that reminded people about renewing coverage and providing income information for verification. Compared with traditional communication methods, the texts led to a 67% increase in enrollees being renewed for coverage and a 56% increase in enrollees verifying their income in response to inquiries, said Medicaid spokesperson Alyson Neel. Nonetheless, the state isn’t planning to text Medicaid enrollees about the end of the public health emergency because it hasn’t set up a system for that. “Medicaid has not yet been able to implement a text messaging system of its own due to other agency priorities,” Neel said.

The rent is too damned high
The cost of renting a house or apartment in metro New Orleans, traditionally lower than in other major markets, has soared in the past six months. Now, the Crescent City is tied with Miami for the fastest growth in rent prices among metro areas. Landlords cite the rising cost of insurance and repairs, but The Times-Picayune’s Tony McAuley reports that rising rents are also related to an influx of large investor groups buying properties and replacing mom-and-pop landlords. It all adds up to new burdens for people with low incomes:  

But even though rental rates in New Orleans have grown relatively slowly over the past five years, they remain an outsized burden for locals who make far less than their counterparts in more expensive cities. In San Francisco, the most expensive rental market in the country where median rents are more than twice those in New Orleans, the average renter pays about 45% of income on housing costs, according to Apartment List’s affordability report. In New Orleans, renters pay on average 61% of their income on housing, according to the report.

Didja Know? Podcast
The latest episode of LBP’s Didja Know? Podcast dropped on Monday morning. Click here to hear Executive Director Jan Moller and Deputy Director Stacey Roussel recap week five of the legislative session and discuss major health care and public benefits legislation. 

Number of the Day
741 – Number of U.S. billionaires, up from 614 before the Covid-19 pandemic. The collective net worth of America’s billionaires grew by 70% during the first two years of the pandemic. Much of that wealth will likely never be taxed (Source: Americans for Tax Fairness)