The Louisiana Legislature began its 2022 session with an historic opportunity to make long-overdue investments in the Pelican State’s people and communities. A combination of surplus dollars, federal pandemic relief money and a surge in state tax collections left legislators with unprecedented amounts of revenue to distribute among Louisiana’s many needs. Lawmakers used the extra cash to give modest raises to teachers, college faculty and some low-paid state workers and to spend heavily on transportation projects and other infrastructure needs. But legislators also missed a rare opportunity to give back some of the windfall revenue to families that need help. The Louisiana Budget Project recaps it all in The 2022 Legislature: A windfall session.
The 2022 legislative session should be remembered for the historic investments that were made in transportation and education programs,” LBP Executive Director Jan Moller said. “And legislators rightly resisted the temptation to use the state’s strong revenue picture as an excuse to cut taxes. But there were also some major missed opportunities to help the people and communities most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
How will the special session unfold?
The state Legislature will reconvene Wednesday for a special session to redraw the state’s congressional districts. A U.S. District judge gave legislators until June 20 to draw a congressional map with two Black-majority districts, which are needed to accurately reflect the state’s racial makeup. But as The Advoate’s Will Sentell explains, lawmakers are wrangling with how exactly this special session will unfold:
“Most of our members are awestruck that it (the stay) got overturned in the 5th and they actually have to be here,” [Louisiana Senate President Page] Cortez said. Top lawmakers have said for days that coming up with a new map in six days is a problem. “If you don’t suspend the rules in the House and Senate you cannot pass it in less than 9 or 10 days,” Cortez said. Suspending the rules requires two-thirds of those present and voting in the House and 20 in the Senate. Public hearings of proposed maps – several plans are expected in both chambers – will need to be held this weekend. “Many of these local officials, mayors and police jury presidents, just citizens, they may not be willing or have the time to come on a Saturday or Sunday,” Cortez said. If the governor vetoes any new map that would spark still more questions.
But as the Louisianan Illuminator’s Wesley Muller explains, there’s a question of whether the GOP-led Legislature, which included only one minority district in the maps it approved last winter, has any interests in attempting to redraw the maps.
“I think you’re gonna have two competing maps – one the Legislature is going to propose and one the courts are going to draw,” Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, said Monday. “Ultimately the 5th Circuit is going to decide or the Supreme Court, so I don’t see the maps coming out differently from Legislature than they already are.”
Impossible federal standard states can’t meet
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) federal block grant, which replaced the nation’s cash welfare program in 1996, took substantial government support away from poor families, while doing very little to help them meet their needs without that aid. A key problem with TANF is the work participation rates that recipients and states must meet in order to qualify for the program. Work participation rates focus solely on work and not on time spent building economic self-sufficiency or increasing wages. Route Fifty’s Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene explain why advocates want this faulty metric to be removed.
Political opinions differ on the merit of work requirements or whether they should be imposed, but the federal standard was regarded by many states as an unrealistic goal for extremely poor parents who experience multiple difficulties in their lives, including homelessness, domestic violence, drug addiction and mental health issues. “It’s an “impossible standard and states knew they couldn’t meet it,” says LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for Family Income Support Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To meet the standard, some states took advantage of a part of TANF that allowed them to reduce the 50% requirement if they were able to cut their TANF caseload. In many cases, they took aggressive actions to create barriers to entry or to apply strict sanctions to families that they deemed uncooperative, with research from the CBPP demonstrating that sanctions have been applied to Black families more frequently than white ones.
Inflation is costing Americans hundreds of dollars per month, and many people are having a hard time just paying their usual household bills as costs continue to outpace the growth in wages. The White House is blaming rising costs on “greedflation,” the idea that companies have used inflation as an excuse to increase prices more than necessary. The New York Times’ German Lopez examines the case for and against this idea:
Price gouging could be driving higher prices in some places, but it is not universal. It is also not clear what progressives’ argument amounts to. The anti-gouging bills introduced in Congress have been criticized as impractical or even counterproductive. More antitrust enforcement — to break up or prevent the creation of monopolistic companies — could help, but only over the longer term. If greedflation explains some of our current problems, it does not offer a clear way out.
Number of the Day
21 – Number of families out of 100 of families in poverty that received cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2020. That’s down from 68 families out of 100 in 1996, the year TANF was enacted. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)