Pandemic benefits are winding down

Pandemic benefits are winding down

The federally declared public health emergency – in place since January 2020 at the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic – was extended last week through the middle of July. Once the emergency officially ends, so will a series of federal protections and benefit enhancements for people who receive Medicaid coverage and food assistance. RouteFifty’s Kery Murakami reports that 80 million Americans on Medicaid, including more than 2 million in Louisiana, will likely have their coverage eligibility reviewed this fall. Meanwhile, many states are concerned about an increase in hunger as enhanced food assistance winds down: 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, gave states greater flexibility to let more people receive food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and increased the benefits many recipients could get during the pandemic by about $82 a month. The law also waived a three-month limit on unemployed, childless adults, younger than 50, accessing the safety net program. These expanded food stamp benefits would all end when the emergency order expires. 

Joan Alker of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute warns that 6.7 million kids could be at “very high risk” of losing health coverage when the health emergency ends, particularly in states such as Texas and Georgia that have not expanded Medicaid coverage.  

Congress could ameliorate the situation by requiring twelve months of continuous coverage for children in Medicaid and CHIP as the House did in the Build Back Better bill passed last fall. Of the twelve non-expansion states, most of the smaller states do have this policy enacted, but the big three –Florida, Georgia, and Texas – do not have it in place for all children in Medicaid and CHIP. Gaps in coverage cause problems for children and their families such as more medical debt and less access to needed care. And they are more likely to impact children of color. The silver lining of the pandemic has been that lower-income families have been assured of stable Medicaid coverage for their children. Policymakers should build on this success and not allow children to slip backwards.

Who should pay for college? 
Americans owe a collective $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, and President Joe Biden is under pressure to permanently forgive all or most of that amount. As the cost of a college degree continues to rise faster than inflation, public attitudes about who should be responsible for paying for college have undergone a major shift. In 2010, 65% of Americans thought parents and students should pay for college. But a decade later, that number dropped to 39%. Brookings’ Natasha Quadlin and Brian Powell explain:

These data represent a massive shift in public opinion in a very short period of time. Social scientists have made a convincing case that public opinion, as a general rule, is very slow to change. Some social scientists have even made the argument that people generally do not change their opinions about social issues; instead, many changes in public opinion are attributable to older generations dying off and being replaced by those with more progressive attitudes (a phenomenon referred to as “cohort replacement”). Our interviews, however, suggest a fundamental shift in public opinion regarding the funding of college.

BRG weighs in on ECE ballot proposition
Research has consistently shown that investments in early childhood development – when the brain’s architecture is being built – can have lifelong positive effects on children. On April 30, voters in New Orleans will decide whether a 5-mill, 20-year property tax is earmarked for early childhood education. The Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) released a report outlining their favorable position of the property tax: 

The tax would provide a stable revenue stream for significantly expanding City Seats, a well-designed early childhood education program established with City funding that serves economically disadvantaged New Orleans children ages 0 to 3. While substantial costs and limited public funding make access to early childhood education particularly challenging for this group, national research finds that providing high-quality early learning programs to low-income children can generate strong returns by increasing incomes, reducing crime and improving health. City Seats incorporates several practices that research links to improved social development, school readiness and later-life outcomes. 

Lessons learned from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Robust government aid and a strong federal safety net actually lowered overall poverty rates during the pandemic. Part of that aid was through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which expanded unemployment insurance eligibility to gigi workers, independent workers and others not previously eligible for benefits or who were unable to work for a variety of COVID-related reasons. JP Morgan Chase has two main lessons learned from the PUA program: It successfully increased access to benefits and ensured against income losses; and there is no evidence that the program took away the incentive to work. As the company explains, these lessons may warrant considering more permanent eligibility expansion. 

The proliferation of more modern means of verifying income streams (e.g. for the purposes of providing early wage access) may make these eligibility expansions more technically feasible. … The COVID-19 virus and its impacts on the availability of care also made other “good cause” circumstances, such as a health event and caring for dependents, more salient as part of a potentially more enduring UI eligibility framework. For example, the Omicron surge in January 2022 resulted in disruptions in care, widespread quarantines, and a return of virtual school or school cancellations. According to the Household Census Pulse, the number of families who reported not working due to having COVID-19 or caring for someone with COVID-19 increased from 3 million in the first half of December to over 8 million between Dec 29 and January 10. With PUA no longer in place in 2022, however, workers had no means of receiving income supports if they lost income as a result of these circumstances.

Programming note
The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice is having its annual Lobby Day at the Capitol today. The Louisiana Budget Project and other partner organizations will be set up in Memorial Hall outside the House and Senate chambers. 

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
52% –
Percentage of public-sector workers who are considering leaving their jobs. In 2020 11.7% of government workers left their jobs – up from 6.1% in 2010. (Source: RouteFifty)