Underfunding child welfare

Underfunding child welfare

Louisiana’s financial coffers were relatively flush last spring when legislators were crafting the annual state budget. But the state agency responsible for overseeing Louisiana’s foster care, adoption and child welfare services still received 6% less than what it requested –  a cut of about $50 million – despite repeated reports of neglect, abuse and death among the children under its supervision. The shortchanging of the Department of Children and Family Services isn’t new, as the agency suffered through massive budget cuts under the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, which have only been partially restored under Gov. John Bel Edwards. Andrea Gallo reports for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate: 

The consequences of protracted underfunding for child welfare have led to predictably bad outcomes. Over the last five years, it’s taken Louisiana an average of 127 hours to open a child welfare investigation after receiving a report of abuse or neglect, according to federal data. The response time is far lower in other Gulf Coast states, including Mississippi and Alabama, which have mean response times of 39 hours and 55 hours, respectively. Nationally, Louisiana ranked among the slowest in the nation for its response times in 2020 — the most recent year of data.

One reason child welfare services have fared worse is that it lacks the kind of powerful or organized backers that help protect other parts of the safety net. 

“Legislators listen to organized money or organized people,” said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- and middle-income families. “The root of the problem is that DCFS has no natural constituency that is able to advocate in the way that other stakeholders do.” … Hospitals and health care interests — known for their lobbying power at the Capitol — have rallied behind the state’s Medicaid budget. And caregivers for people with developmental disabilities successfully persuaded state officials to overhaul a Medicaid waiver system that previously had a yearslong waitlist.

Unequal Internet speeds 
New Orleanians living in a predominantly Black and Latino, middle-class neighborhood receive AT&T internet service that is nearly 400 times slower than what their counterparts in the mostly white, upper-income neighborhood of Lakeview receive, but are charged the same price. The practice of providing slower service in areas with less white residents isn’t unique to the Crescent City. The Markup compiled 800,000 internet service offers from AT&T, Verizon, Earthlink and CenturyLink in 38 cities across America and found the providers offered the worst deals to formally redlined areas and areas that had lower median incomes.

Residents of neighborhoods offered the worst deals aren’t just being ripped off; they’re denied the ability to participate in remote learning, well-paying remote jobs, and even family connection and recreation—ubiquitous elements of modern life. “It isn’t just about the provision of a better service. It’s about access to the tools people need to fully participate in our democratic system,” said Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel at the ACLU. “That is a far bigger deal and that’s what really worries me about what you’re finding.”

Inadequate gas tax costs state more than fuel-efficient vehicles 
Earlier this year the Legislature approved a $60 annual fee on plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles to help address the state’s transportation construction backlog. Louisiana Legislative Auditor Michael Waguespack says the fee isn’t enough, and suggested it be increased to blunt the possible loss of $564 million as more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars take to state roads. While it’s important for electric vehicles to pay for their use of state roadways, the real source of Louisiana’s transportation woes is the Legislature’s refusal over the past three decades to raise the state’s gasoline tax. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports

The state charge has not been changed since 1990, which trails only Alaska and Mississippi in terms of how long it has been since the last hike. Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the gas tax “is a dying revenue source.” “Inflation eats you up over time,” Kalivoda said. “That is what has happened with the gas tax.” The audit says that, if Louisiana’s gas tax had been linked to inflation in 1990, it would be 49 cents per gallon today instead of 21 cents. A total of 22 states do that, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia.

Louisiana announced on Tuesday that it has secured $320 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to increase lithium-battery production, elevating the state’s role in the electric vehicle manufacturing industry. 

College enrollment continues decline
The number of people attending America’s colleges and universities declined for a third consecutive year, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Undergraduate enrollment is about 7% lower than it was in the fall of 2019 and 1.1% lower since last year. The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson explains what could be causing this trend. 

Enrollment is sensitive to birthrates as well as migration patterns and economic factors. When the economy booms and jobs are plentiful, many young people will delay going to college. Several states in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions have had sharper enrollment declines than the national average. Across the country, most colleges and universities are worried that such declines will reduce revenue they need to keep pace with higher costs as inflation raises the price of goods and services.

Louisiana Child Care Parent Poll
Parents of young children: Please help policymakers gain a better understanding of the importance of accessible child care. If you have children under 5, click here to take the Louisiana Child Care Parent Poll, which is sponsored by Louisiana Department of Education, Agenda for Children, United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. 

Number of the Day
77% – Percentage of the least-White areas of New Orleans that were offered slow internet for the same price than wealthier areas. This is compared to just 45% of the most-white areas being offered slower speeds. (Source: The Markup)