Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed increasing the minimum wage for state employees to at least $10 per hour in his 2023-24 executive budget. The move comes after repeated efforts to provide an increase to all residents have been blocked by Republicans legislators and powerful business lobbyists during the first seven years of Edwards’ tenure. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports on the much-needed effort and lost purchasing power of a minimum wage that hasn’t been raised in more than 14 years.
“I think it is very good that the state is doing this, but it’s not enough,” said Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning fiscal policy organization. “It should start at $15 per hour.” The federal minimum wage was most recently raised in 2009, but that rate is not tied to inflation. That means the purchasing power of a person earning minimum wage has fallen over the past 14 years as prices have gone up. The value of the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968, when it was technically under $2 per hour, according to a recent Louisiana Budget Project report. Adjusted for inflation, that rate from 55 years ago would now come out to about $12.23 per hour today, Moller said.
An $80 million increase for schools
Louisiana’s top school board voted on Monday to recommend an $80 million increase in state aid for public schools, in addition to the pay raises included in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2023-24 executive budget. While the governor’s proposal includes a $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers, and $1,000 more for support workers – and possibly more if the state’s revenue projections continue to improve – it does not include any increased funding for classrooms. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force’s proposal has a slim chance of success at the Legislature.
Others argued that a state aid boost for public schools is long overdue and that schools face restrictions on how the federal aid can be used amid rising costs of health insurance, retirement costs and other expenses. Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said schools have landed only two hikes in spending per student in the past 15 years. … [BESE member Jim} Garvey said a costly plan similar to the one eventually backed by the task force was a case of “tilting at windmills” with virtually no chance for success.
State reaching out to Medicaid enrollees as pandemic protection end
A pandemic relief law that gave states extra federal money for Medicaid came with a provision: States could not terminate anyone’s coverage as long as the federal public health emergency (PHE) remained in effect. But almost 2 million Louisianans—more than 40% of the state’s population—will have their Medicaid eligibility reviewed in the coming months as the PHE, and the protections associated with it, end. The Louisiana’s Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports that state officials will start sending letters to Medicaid recipients to verify their contact information ahead of the massive disenrollment process.
The letters being sent to Medicaid recipients will be a pink color in order to draw attention to them. “It tells the member they need to keep their contact information up to date and to start watching their mail and they need to read the mail and respond accordingly,” (Medicaid Director Tara) LeBlanc said. Medicaid recipients who receive a pink letter don’t need to take immediate action but should watch their mail closely for more information about their enrollment status to arrive. People in Medicaid who don’t receive a pink letter in March should reach out to the Louisiana Department of Health to try to update their contact information, LeBlanc said.
For free enrollment assistance, visit Navigators for a Healthy Louisiana at getcoveredla.org or by calling 1-800-435-2432.
Polarized Congress threatens Farm Bill improvements
The Farm Bill, a multi-year law that includes funding and rules for agriculture and food programs, is typically a bipartisan affair when it comes up for renewal every five years. But Louisiana farmers worry that a polarized Congress will make it harder to bridge partisan and geographical divides and make improvements to the legislation difficult. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports on what’s at stake in one of the few must-pass bills in the federal government.
Immigration is a possible flashpoint. Congress will have to skirt between Republican rhetoric that porous borders fuel crime and the farmers’ reliance on immigrant workers to tend and pick crops. Federal employment requirements for distributing food stamps – formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – is another issue where Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural representatives come from opposing corners. Those questions and others are big-picture items on the congressional fight card. What will really slow things down are attempts to work out the small yet complex issues, such as crop insurance, that are vitally important to individual farmers but difficult to boil down into a slogan.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), whose funding and rules are included in the massive Farm Bill, is one of the most effective tools at fighting poverty.
Number of the Day
49th – Louisiana’s national rank for electric vehicle infrastructure. Texas, a favorite comparison for state policymakers, has more than double the amount of EV chargers per resident than Louisiana. (Source: iSeeCars.com)