Politicians share blame for child welfare failures

Politicians share blame for child welfare failures

For years, leaders at the Department of Children and Family Services, the state agency responsible for overseeing Louisiana’s foster care, adoption and family services, pleaded with legislators for adequate funding and warned of the consequences of failing to provide it. For years, lawmakers mostly ignored them. Former DCFS Undersecretary Edward Ashworth and LBP Executive Director Jan Moller, writing in The Advocate, explain how the Legislature and governor share some of the blame for recent failures at the agency, and outline the choices Louisiana’s government leaders face on how to protect our state’s most vulnerable children. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. When legislators return to the State Capitol next spring for a “fiscal” session, they can start by asking themselves some simple questions: How much revenue is required to have a fully functioning child welfare system? And what type of tax structure is needed to support such a system? And if they’re not willing to raise the revenue needed to support a functioning child welfare system, they should ask a different, harder question: What are they willing to cut to make room in the budget for the most vulnerable children? Higher education? Public schools?

Last days of Isle de Jean Charles
For about two centuries, Native Americans and their descendants have lived on Isle de Jean Charles, a tiny stretch of land about 45 miles south of Houma. But the island has been shrinking at a dramatic rate due to rising sea levels from climate change, sediment diversion and the construction of oil and gas pipelines that cut through land and allow saltwater intrusion. Members of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation were hopeful when they received a $48 million grant from the federal government to relocate, but since they lacked federal recognition, the tribe couldn’t apply for the grant on its own and needed to partner with the state of Louisiana. As Nola.com’s Tristan Baurick explains, that’s a move they now regret, as government communication with tribal leaders has dwindled and big promises for a smooth relocation have gone unfulfilled.

Once the state Office of Community Development had the money, the relationship changed. The agency abandoned the tribe’s vision and restarted an already lengthy development process, hiring its own planners and architects, and cutting the tribe’s chief and council out of decision-making. The state both narrowed resettlement eligibility, instituting financial and residency requirements, and broadened it, with plans to eventually open the resettlement site to people from other parts of the coast. The agency gave conflicting reasons for the changes or failed to communicate key decisions to tribal leaders — moves that deepened distrust rooted in centuries of bad-faith negotiations with government, broken treaties, stolen land. And although the state deemed the island unsafe and forbid participants from living on or improving their properties, it spent millions fortifying the access road and adding parking, docks and recreational fishing amenities. That has spurred interest from developers, who envision new cabins for hunters and anglers alongside the wrecked homes of longtime residents.

The Pandora’s box of “fetal personhood”
Roughly half of the states have banned or mostly banned access to abortion services after three trigger laws went into effect last week. But many anti-abortion activists and politicians want to push beyond bans and work toward fetal personhood, which confers legal rights from conception. The ultimate goal of this movement is to be able to classify an abortion procedure as murder. But as The New York Times’ Kate Zernike explains, states that have passed this unpopular law, such as Georgia, have opened up a pandora’s box: 

Those fetuses are eligible for child support payments and tax exemptions on the pregnant woman’s state income taxes. They are also to be counted in “population-based determinations,” which could influence state legislative maps and distribution of state money. But the law does not explain how those fetuses would be tallied, since the United States census does not count them. Arguing against the law before it passed, State Senator Jen Jordan noted an opinion from the counsel to the state legislature saying that under fetal personhood, Georgia would be required to pay public benefits to the fetus of an immigrant woman, even as it now denies those benefits to her, because any person born in the United States becomes a citizen.  She also warned that taking legal medications that some doctors advise against using in pregnancy — aspirin and some antidepressants — or even failing to secure adequate prenatal care could open pregnant women to prosecution.

Throwing federal money at subpar employers
The purpose of the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit is to encourage businesses to hire and retain marginalized workers for permanent employment. But a ProPublica investigation found that the program is doling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year subsidizing temp work. Emily Corwin explains how the credit benefits employers, including many with long records of labor violations, instead of workers. 

Corporate filings by publicly traded temp agencies reveal how big a windfall the tax credit has been. One company, Kelly Services, reported receiving tax credits, “primarily” WOTC, worth $164 million over 10 years, or 48% of its U.S. pre-tax earnings. TrueBlue, which owns the day-labor firm PeopleReady, reported receiving tax credits — also described as “primarily” WOTC — worth $114 million over the past 10 years, or 29% of its pre-tax income. The credits reduced TrueBlue’s federal income taxes by 69% and Kelly Services’ by 73%. “Everybody’s winning except the formerly incarcerated person,” said Andrea C. James, executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Note: The Daily Dime was not published on Friday because our staff was taking part in a professional development event. We apologize for the inconvenience. 

Number of the Day
2nd – Louisiana’s rank for state budget cuts to higher education from 2008-2019. By cutting state aid, state leaders put the responsibility of funding higher education on the backs of parents and students through tuition and fee increases (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities