Federal pandemic relief, in the form of expanded child tax credits, enhanced unemployment insurance and stimulus payments temporarily reduced food insecurity across America as it helped people afford everyday items to make ends meet and significantly reduced child poverty. While the cost of food and other basic necessities has been rising, pandemic stimulus programs are winding down or have already expired. That has left many people with little to fill in the gap. The New York Times’ Jim Tankersly reports on how aid is expiring while it’s still needed:
The national child poverty rate and the food hardship rate for families with children, which dipped in 2021, have both rebounded to their highest levels since December 2020, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. Two in five Americans surveyed by the Census Bureau at the end of July said they had difficulty paying a usual household expense in the previous week, the highest rate in two years of the survey.
Nola.com’s Marie Fazio reports that New Orleans food banks are running short on supplies, and nonprofit organizations can’t keep up with requests for help:
Its not just food pantries that are experiencing increased demand. When the United Way of Southeast Louisiana opened applications for $150 in energy bill assistance, it was flooded with more than 15,000 applications in under eight hours. The response exhausted the $4.4 million Entergy had pledged toward payment assistance. “That number is indicative of the challenges we face right now,” said Michael Williamson, CEO of the nonprofit. “Folks are struggling, they don’t make enough and they’re having to get creative.”
Leaders try to tackle reading crisis
The latest standardized LEAP tests show that 4 in 10 Louisiana third graders scored below grade level in reading. Students who don’t master basic reading skills by the end of third grade are likely to face major academic challenges in future years and are far more likely to drop out of high school. On Monday, state education leaders announced fundamental changes that aim to tackle Louisiana’s reading crisis. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports:
The changes are focused around schools identifying and monitoring reading goals; high-quality instruction and intervention; ongoing professional growth for teachers in effective instruction and heavy support from families. “We are making a fundamental shift in literacy instruction in our state,” said Jena Chiasson, assistant state superintendent for teaching and learning in the state Department of Education.
State Rep. Richard Nelson announced he will try again to replicate the significant strides that Mississippi made in improving reading scores. Nelson’s House Bill 269 cleared the House of Representatives this past legislative session, but fell two votes short of passage in the Senate.
Biden nears student loan debt decision
Tens of millions of Americans collectively carry $1.73 trillion in student loan debt, a burden caused by America’s failure to invest adequately in free or low-cost public higher education and that is disproportionately borne by people of color. President Joe Bident is nearing a decision on how to tackle this debt crisis, with an announcement expected as early as this week. Recent conversations have focused on canceling $10,000 of debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 per year and extending the pause on loan payments, currently scheduled to end on Aug. 31. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report:
Canceling $10,000 in debt for everyone with federal student loans would settle the balances of roughly a third of borrowers and cut total debt by at least half for another 20 percent, according to the latest data from the Education Department. Borrowers are expected to resume payments Sept. 1, more than two years after the moratorium was first instituted in response to the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. Extending the pause would mean roughly 41 million people would continue to spend the next few months without interest accruing on their debt and with more time to save money. By April 30, the moratorium had cost the federal government about $102 billion in interest payments borrowers didn’t have to make, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Race, class and traffic deaths
The U.S. is experiencing an alarming increase in vehicle deaths, with 2021 seeing the sharpest increase in the vehicle death rate since the 1940s. But while vehicle crashes seem like an equal-opportunity public-health problem, academic research has shown that people with lower incomes and people of color are more likely to die in crashes. The New York Times’ David Leonhardt examines the causes, which are still somewhat elusive, and examines possible solutions.
Vehicle fatalities have long been unequal. Poorer people are more likely to drive older cars, which can lack safety features. Low-income neighborhoods are also much more likely to have high-speed roads running through them. “We have systematically put these arterial roadways in areas where people had less political power to fight back,” Rebecca Sanders, the founder of Safe Streets Research & Consulting, said. The pandemic probably exacerbated the gaps because many professionals have begun working from home, while many blue-collar Americans kept driving, biking or walking to work. Some lower-income workers also drive as part of their jobs.
Number of the Day
60% – Percentage of monkeypox cases in Louisiana that have occurred among Black Louisianans, compared to just 27% among whites (Source: Louisiana Department of Health via the Shreveport Times)