The U.S. House is expected to give final passage to the Democrats’ signature climate, tax and health care package on Friday. The Inflation Reduction Act, which advanced out of the Senate on Sunday, would lower the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs, raise taxes on profitable corporations and make historic investments in reducing the rate of climate change. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller explains how the IRA would put Louisiana at the forefront of the clean energy sector, and how the landmark legislation may impact the people of the state, including low-income communities.
Rep. Troy Carter Sr., D-Louisiana, said the “energy communities” provision of the bill could benefit Black households, which spend more of their income on energy and experience a median energy burden 64% greater than white households. “So this is also an environmental justice concern,” Carter said in an email. “This bill is the most aggressive action in history to combat the existential crisis of climate change, which is threatening Louisiana’s coast, people, culture, and infrastructure. The health of many Louisiana communities are threatened by the dangerous pollution and toxins from domestic fossil fuel production.”
The bill would also lower the price of some prescription drugs by allowing the federal government to directly negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare, and reduce health care costs by extending temporary marketplace subsidies:
Citing a study by the Urban Institute, (LBP Executive Director Jan) Moller said an estimated 64,000 Louisiana residents would have lost coverage had Congress allowed the premium subsidy to expire. “That is a huge component,” Moller said. “It is going to keep insurance affordable for more than 100,000 low and middle income residents in Louisiana.”
Falling behind on reading
The number of Louisiana students with major reading problems has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. New scores from the standardized LEAP tests show that 4 in 10 third graders in the state scored below grade level in reading. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports on the racial disparities in Louisiana LEAP results and long-term consequences of the low scores.
A total of 53% of Black children scored at the two lowest achievement levels, a 26% hike over the last pre-pandemic snapshot. Among White students 27% scored either approaching basic or unsatisfactory, a 59% increases over 2019. The five achievement levels are advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory. Students who score approaching basic or unsatisfactory are generally considered to be performing below grade level, which boosts chances for learning problems and eventually dropping out of school.
Despite the formal desegregation of Louisiana’s schools in 1960, public schools in the Bayou State were still highly or moderately segregated as of 2019.
State-level tax credits can help families afford the basics
Poor families often need additional resources so their children can reach their full potential. The expanded Child Tax Credit included in the American Rescue Plan drastically reduced poverty by providing families with monthly cash payments that help cover the costs of raising a child. But Congress allowed this critical support to expire in December. With Congress refusing to act, Iris Hinh and Samantha Waxman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities write that states can help by creating or expanding their own tax credits.
Research indicates that additional income from tax credits is associated with reduced poverty, improved child and maternal health and students’ educational achievement, and can boost local and state economies. Tax credits also help to advance racial and gender equity; most states tax Black, Indigenous, and Latinx families at higher rates than white families on average — the result of historical and ongoing bias and discrimination. These equity-boosting tax credits are especially important today, given people of color, immigrants, women, and individuals with low incomes were particularly hit hard by the pandemic’s economic downturn.
A 2021 LBP report explains why Louisiana should follow the lead of other states and create a state child tax credit targeted at low-and middle-income families.
Evictions on the rise
Federal emergency aid and an eviction moratorium helped keep millions of Americans in their homes during the depths of the pandemic despite economic setbacks. But that aid and federal eviction protections have now expired, leaving low-income renters vulnerable to losing their homes. The Associated Press’s Michael Casey documents the story of Jada Riley of New Orleans to explain how evictions are now surging to pre-pandemic levels in many U.S. cities.
Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That’s in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in federal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed. “I really think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Shannon MacKenzie, executive director of Colorado Poverty Law Project, said of June filings in Denver, which were about 24% higher than the same time three years ago. “Our numbers of evictions are increasing every month at an astonishing rate, and I just don’t see that abating any time soon.”
Number of the Day
41% – Percentage of Louisiana third graders who are reading below grade level (Source: The Advocate)