Legislature must avoid UI changes that hurt workers

Legislature must avoid UI changes that hurt workers

Louisiana’s unemployment benefits are notoriously skimpy, with average weekly benefits that are currently the lowest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In an effort to address this problem, the Legislature is considering a bill (House Bill 657) that would increase the maximum weekly benefit. But this increase would come at a steep price, as unemployment benefits would be capped at 12 weeks, instead of the 26-week maximum in current law. The bill would allow up to eight additional weeks for people participating in an approved training program. LBP’s economic policy advocate Jackson Voss breaks down HB 657 – and better alternatives – in a new blog:

While weekly benefits are long overdue for an increase, reducing the time that jobless people can receive benefits is a bad trade-off that would impose serious and unnecessary hardships. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 33.5% of American workers unemployed during March 2022 had been without a job for 15 weeks or longer. Americans experiencing unemployment had gone without a job for an average of 24 weeks (or about a month longer than people could get benefits under HB 657, even if they are enrolled in a training program).

The goal of HB 657 seems to be to ensure that the UI trust fund is not depleted. But its real effect would be to make it even more complicated for workers to receive benefits when their bosses lay them off. Fortunately, there are better reforms available for legislators’ consideration this session – including two bills, House Bill 308 and House Bill 506, to increase minimum weekly benefits from $10 a week (one of the lowest minimum weekly benefits in the country).

The case against carbon capture
The petrochemical industry and its advocates are touting carbon capture and storage technology – “capturing” carbon emissions and pumping them deep underground – as its best answer to global climate change. Congress has responded by allocating $3.5 billion for such projects, and private corporations are investing many times that amount in Louisiana and elsewhere. As The Associated Press’ Drew Costley reports, environmentalists counter with studies showing that the technology doesn’t work and that what’s really needed is more investment in renewable wind and solar energy: 

“Carbon capture is neither workable nor feasible,” said Basav Sen, climate justice policy director for the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. “It’s merely an excuse for the fossil fuel industry to keep operating the way it does.” A study in late 2020 by researchers  from the University of California, San Diego, found over 80% of 39 projects that have sought to commercialize carbon capture and storage ended in failure. The study cited lack of technological readiness as a top factor. 

Domestic violence is on the rise
Louisiana was already a dangerous place for women before the Covid-19 pandemic, as the state routinely ranked near the top of national lists for domestic violence, including homicide. But advocates say the problem has grown steadily worse in the past two years, echoing a national uptick that could be related to the isolation and economic disruption caused by the pandemic. Jacqueline DeRobertis reports for The Advocate:  

The vast scale of the crisis has been compounded by survivor resources stretched thin across the state and buckling under the weight of new cases, as noted in a legislative audit released last year. … While domestic violence ultimately comes down to the choices of an abuser, (Mariah) Wineski (of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence) noted root causes of the violence that influence people’s decisions. Those risk factors include gender inequality, economic instability and lack of community engagement and must be addressed before change can occur, she said.

We know how to cut child poverty
Last year’s temporary expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit – which was paid out in monthly installments – helped millions of families afford essential items. Families lost this critical support when Congress failed to extend the credit in December, and the results were stark: 3.7 million children fell back below the poverty line in January after the credit was taken away. Now,  families are filing their taxes ahead of the April 18 deadline, and most are claiming the remainder of their Child Tax Credit for 2021, which will continue to help them afford the rising costs of basic needs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chuck Marr urges Congress to permanently cut child poverty with an expanded Child Tax Credit. 

Children can thrive under trying circumstances but poverty can also take a heavy toll — of going to bed hungry, of having to move frequently, and of the tremendous stress for families living on the financial edge. Even short periods of food insecurity, for example, pose long-term health and developmental risks for children. The expanded Child Tax Credit provided financial stability for millions of children in families with low incomes, and enactment of an expanded credit that’s fully refundable on a permanent basis and issued monthly would be a game changer. It’s critical that policymakers recognize the stakes involved. The need for an expansion right now is especially pronounced (and the economic benefits to families clear, economists note), with prices of basic needs rising. Absent a new expansion, the expiration of the Rescue Plan’s expanded Child Tax Credit will push a projected 4.1 million children back below the poverty line in 2022, of whom 1.6 million are Latino, 1.2 million are white, 930,000 are Black, and 132,000 are Asian, we estimate based on annual income.

Number of the Day
31% – Approximate percentage of baby formula products that were out of stock across the country the Week of April 3 (Source: Datasembly via the Washington Post)