The United States has seen a significant drop in child poverty in the past 30 years, thanks in large part to a changing – and expanded – federal safety net. Few places have benefited more from these changes than West Virginia, where child poverty has fallen by nearly three-quarters since 1993. The New York Times’ Jason DeParle visits the river town of Huntington, where Cecilia Jackson’s children are growing up with economic security their mom never knew, thanks in large part to federal tax credits and other benefits that supplement the family’s modest wages.
Like her father, Ms. Jackson earns a modest wage — as a counselor at a Head Start program — but she benefits from a safety net that does much more for low-income parents, especially those like her who work. The share of children the government considers poor has fallen by more than half, and Ms. Jackson’s children — Conner, Ezekiel and Lyric — are not among them. While she and her husband, Jarren, a student and musician, earn less than $21,000 after taxes and work expenses, they receive about as much in government aid, which doubles their net income. That degree of support, partly meant to compensate for the prevalence of low wages, has become common among low-income working families, and it lifts the Jacksons from thousands of dollars below the poverty line to thousands above it.
Pay more at pump for better roads
Much has changed in Louisiana since 1990, but the tax that Louisiana levies on a gallon of gasoline has not budged. The value of the gas tax has eroded sharply since then due to inflation and increased fuel efficiency, and the result is a massive, $15 billion backlog of transportation repairs and upgrades that the state cannot afford. An Advocate editorial echoes the recent findings from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor that the state does not raise enough revenue to meet its road and bridge needs.
Legislators understand the landscape but apparently don’t have the guts to explain realities to their constituents. Although it is a bit like raiding Peter’s purse to pay Paul, they voted instead to divert some vehicle sales tax revenues to road repairs over several years. Drivers of electric vehicles are relatively few in Louisiana, so lawmakers had no political compunctions about a bill by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, that will establish an annual fee for hybrid and electric vehicles. Edwards signed the measure into law and the fees go into effect next January. But baby steps won’t get us new bridges on the interstate highways or build many other roads needed in the state. If we wimp out on gas taxes for decades, that is what happens.
Crisis mode for Louisiana’s homeowners insurance market
Louisiana’s state-run property insurer of last resort has more than tripled its customer base over the last two years as private insurers folded or left the state following hurricanes Laura, Delta, Zeta and Ida. Last week the board of Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Co. announced that the approximately 106,000 homeowners in its program could face a 63% cost increase in 2023. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reports on how Louisiana’s homeowners insurance market is in crisis mode.
The spike in homeowners costs in general combined with significant increases in federal flood insurance rates for many Louisiana homeowners could price many out of home ownership, said one member of the Citizens board. “Some people’s insurance payments are going to be larger than their mortgage payments,” said Eugene Montgomery, who is also president of the private Community Financial Insurance Center, which has offices in Baton Rouge and Monroe. “I’ve been in the insurance business 44 years and have never seen such a challenging market.”
Data on disabilities
Every child in Louisiana, including those with disabilities and other exceptionalities, is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. But ongoing problems with a state data system is complicating that mission, and potentially leading to some students being denied the special education services they need. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that a group that represents administrators of special education services recently wrote to the Department of Education listing more than a dozen problems with a data system that is supposed to track students to ensure they’re getting appropriate support.
The group said it is having trouble gaining access to all-important individualized education programs, or IEPs, which children with certain disabilities rely on for their education. The problem is hindering efforts to ensure compliance with federal rules, identifying students new to schools and even locating students using the search function of the new system, according to the complaint.
Agency officials told the newspaper that most of the problems identified in the letter have been resolved.
Number of the Day
0.1 – Increase in consumer prices in August, over the previous months. Rising prices for food and housing more than offset falling gas prices. Overall consumer prices in August were 8.3% higher than a year earlier. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via The Washington Post)