Protecting public access to demographic TOPS data

Protecting public access to demographic TOPS data

Since 2014, the Louisiana Board of Regents has annually reported the race, gender and parental income levels of TOPS scholarship recipients. It’s how we know that the majority of TOPS recipients are white and hail from high-income families. This information has recently sparked conversations about how Louisiana can provide more opportunities for students who are not benefiting from the program. But Sen. Bodi White is now sponsoring a bill that would stop the income reporting requirement for TOPS, leaving members of the public and their elected representatives in the dark about a key factor in how the state supports its students. While Senate Bill 81 originally also stripped data on the race and gender of TOPS recipients from the program’s annual report, the bill was amended to only do away with income reporting. Piper Hutchinson of the LSU Manship Schools News Service reports

Opponents of White’s bill argued Thursday that collecting the income data helps facilitate conversations about how to address low-income students in Louisiana. “I would argue that we should have this information not to demonize these TOPS recipients who rightfully earned their scholarships on merit like myself, but rather keeping this data at the front of our minds to really force us to have conversations about how we can work to create more opportunities for those low-income students who are being served by the TOPS scholarship program,” Richard Davis, a Louisiana Budget Project policy fellow, said. Davis pointed out that the Legislature had unanimously approved a measure to require reporting of this data to give lawmakers as much data as possible with which to craft policy.

Cutting the “time tax” for low-income families
Government safety-net programs that help people get enough food to eat, access health care services or find an affordable place to live often come with cumbersome applications and other bureaucratic barriers that seem purposefully designed to discourage applicants. Critics call this the “time tax,” and it falls hardest on the poor. The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey looks at efforts to reduce this paperwork burden, using Louisiana as an illustrative example: 

An estimated one in four recipients of SNAP in the state “churns” off and on the program in a given year due to paperwork troubles. Families that endure the arduous application process wait, on average, 32 months to receive a housing voucher. Louisiana runs one of the smallest cash-welfare programs in the country, and closes 5 to 10 percent of cases a month for procedural errors or in order to punish a recipient for noncompliance. One in five eligible households misses out on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is generally worth thousands of dollars, in many cases because the household does not file a tax return. In 2019, the state disenrolled 21,893 kids—kids!—from its public health-insurance program due to “failure to comply with procedures.” The result: more housing insecurity, more food insecurity, more poverty, and more hassle for Louisiana’s low-income families. This happens to low-income families in the other 49 states too. 

Rising temperatures could torch crop production
Louisiana is on the front-lines of the devastating effects of climate change. From 2010 to 2020, the state experienced 30 extreme weather events, causing up to $50 billion in damages. While hurricanes and floods pose serious threats to the state, so do the effects of rising temperatures on crops production. Unfortunately, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain’s plan for combating this problem relies on the very industries that helped create it. The Advocate’s Robert Stewart explains

“Climate change is real,” Strain told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “We’ve benefited in the last 100 years by slightly increasing the temperature, (leading to) increased production. But now we’re on the other side where the increases in temperature will decrease production in plants and in animals. So we must be cognizant of that.” At the same time, Strain called for increased domestic production of oil and natural gas to offset higher energy commodity prices before food prices spike to unaffordable levels.

Housing fairness bill advances
A bill that would put Louisiana in line with federal housing law by protecting LGBTQ residents advanced out of committee on Monday. House Bill 303 by Rep. Aimee Freeman would prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Illuminator’s J.C. Canicosa reports

“The federal law already protects these (LGBTQ) individuals from discrimination, and all I ask is that we in Louisiana put our state law in line with federal law,” Freeman said to the committee. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last year it will enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is Freeman’s second attempt at passing the bill after Republicans on House Commerce blocked the bill last year. The bill still had Republican opponents this time around.

Didja Know Podcast?
In this week’s episode of the Didja Know? Podcast, LBP’s Jan Moller and Davante Lewis recap the budget bills moving out of the House and over to the Senate and discuss legislation concerning predatory payday loans. Click here to listen

Number of the Day
– Percentage of Louisianans who support raising the state minimum wage. (Source: Public Policy Research Lab at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication)