Criminalizing the unsheltered

Criminalizing the unsheltered

Unhoused people living in tents on public land in East Baton Rouge Parish will soon be subjected to a $250 fine or mandatory community service. The Metro Council voted along party lines on Wednesday to pass an ordinance designed to crack down on “homeless encampments” after amending it to take out the possibility of jail time, with the council’s seven Republicans voting for the measure and five Democrats voting against it. The Advocate’s Paul Cobler reports that there are questions about whether it can be enforced: 

The ordinance was also amended to require officers to first confirm there is available bed space at emergency shelters in the parish before issuing a court summons. That amendment may effectively declaw the ordinance because of the lack of available emergency bed space in the parish. There are 205 emergency shelter beds in the parish, but more than 675 people were experiencing homelessness during a February count either by sleeping in the available emergency beds, in Federal Emergency Management Agency shelter beds or sleeping on the streets, said Carrie Patterson, the continuum of care manager for the Louisiana Housing Corporation’s Louisiana Balance of State Continuum of Care.

There are far better solutions to homelessness than piling fines and bureaucratic barriers on people who lack permanent shelter, and often experience addiction, mental illness and other health problems. The New York Times’ Maia Szalavitz writes about a program in Seattle that has been successful in reducing urban encampments and connecting people with permanent housing. 

Instead of re-incarcerating homeless people who typically already have long histories of minor arrests, police departments that participate in LEAD refer them to case management services. The program has an overall philosophy of harm reduction, which, in addition to securing shelter, focuses on improving health, rather than mandating abstinence from drugs and other risky behaviors. LEAD originated as a collaboration of public defenders, the police and prosecutors, who put aside differences to work on solutions.

Executive action on student debt 
President Joe Biden on Wednesday laid out his long-awaited plan to tackle the nation’s student loan debt  crisis. The plan eliminates $10,000 for people earning less than $125,000 per year and families earning less than $250,000 per year. Recipients of Pell Grants, a tool for helping low-income people afford college, are eligible for $20,000 in cancellations. Biden’s move also extends the moratorium on repayments one final time through the end of the year, and caps future payments at 5% of a person’s income for people on income-based repayment plans—one of several important changes outside of the headline debt-relief number that will make college loan repayments more manageable for borrowers. The Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Jeff Stein have everything you need to know about the cancellation plan: 

The White House estimates roughly 43 million federal student loan borrowers are eligible for forgiveness, and about 20 million could have their debt completely wiped out, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Wednesday. The policy will deliver the single largest discharge of education debt on record. “This is going to change the lives of a lot of people,” said Mark Huelsman, director of policy and advocacy director of the Hope Center, a higher education think tank. “When we’re talking about full cancellation for 20 million people, this is unprecedented.”

As Dr. Ali Bustamante of the Roosevelt Institute points out, it was wrong for state governments to shift its responsibility to fund higher education onto students and their families. But that didn’t stop Louisiana officials, representing a state that ranked second in the nation in higher education budget cuts over the last decade, from criticizing the move

The teacher pay penalty
The gap in pay between America’s teachers and other college graduates continues to widen. Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute reports on new findings that helps explain why public schools in Louisiana and across the country are having trouble filling their classrooms with qualified teachers, and why fewer students are choosing teaching careers. 

Simply put, teachers are paid less (in weekly wages and total compensation) than their nonteacher college-educated counterparts, and the situation has worsened considerably over time. … Generally, the teacher wage penalty has been on a worsening trajectory since the mid-1990s. A slight shrinking of the gap in 2019 was short lived. It widened again in 2020, to 21.6%, and in 2021, the penalty reached a record 23.5%. That means that, on average, teachers earned just 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with what similar college graduates earned working in other professions—and much less than the relative 93.9 cents on the dollar that teachers earned in 1996.

A new broadband delay for rural areas
Fewer than 30 complaints threaten the installation of high-speed internet for about 400,000 people in rural Louisiana. Some of the complaints stem from existing providers challenging a new grant program designed to extend high speed internet into rural areas. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports on the delay and the importance of the Grant Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) for the large swaths of rural Louisiana that lack broadband access. 

Some of the challenges [State Rep. Daryl] Deshotel has seen involve existing providers claiming to already service rural homes with fast enough internet speeds to meet the criteria. After a challenge was filed against the winning bidder in Avoyelles Parish, Deshotel asked businesses and residences to test the speeds they were receiving from the company that opposed the winning bid. Only 7% reported back speeds that were close to what the challenging company said it already provided the sites that would get serviced under the grant, Deshotel said. “Exaggeration is a good word to use,” he said.

Number of the Day
$56 – Monthly amount that a single public school teacher earning $44,000 would have to pay on their student loans under reforms announced by President Joe Biden’s administration. Under current income-based repayment rules, that teacher pays $197 per month (Source: The White House)