Louisiana is flush with historic amounts of tax revenue, but legislators can’t use that money to give teachers a pay raise, keep children enrolled in child-care centers and rebuild critical infrastructure unless they agree to raise a constitutional limit on state spending. To avoid breaching the cap, House leaders confected a budget plan that stiffs teachers and young children in favor of paying down state pension debt. But on Tuesday, administration officials said the pension investments should count against the cap, which means the budget already exceeds the spending limit. The Advocate’s James Finn has the story:
Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma and the House Appropriations Committee chair, who shepherded the House version of the budget, said he and House staff still believe that paying off debt wouldn’t count towards the expenditure limit. He echoed (Senate President Page) Cortez’s sentiment that the disagreement comes down to what exactly constitutes an appropriation. … If budget negotiations fail or Edwards opposes the version of the budget package that ends up on his desk, the Legislature could be called back to Baton Rouge for a special session. Each chamber has to marshal three-quarters majorities to pass the main budget bill, House Bill 1, in a special budget session, putting pressure on legislators to reach an agreement before June 8.
An ombudsman for abused children?
The recent deaths of several young children from abuse and neglect brought overdue attention to the underfunded – and overburdened – state agencies charged with preventing such tragedies. Sen. Regina Barrow’s Senate Bill 137 aims to address the problem by creating a new ombudsman’s office to investigate complaints about the treatment of children in state care. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s editorial board asserts that the situation facing many children in Louisiana is dire:
(A)gencies and advocates have been calling on those same legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards to better fund these understaffed and overwhelmed agencies for years now. If another office with a specific child advocate would help matters, we’re for it. But we cannot escape the realities of our situation. A larger percentage of Louisiana families live in poverty than in most states, and the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic stripped away the veneer of normalcy that covered up deeper social problems than we’d like to admit seeing in our state.
The drive to create an ombudsman’s office was spurred in part by Rick Wheat, president of Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services, who notes that Louisiana is one of only five states without a children’s ombudsman. These five states also rank among the worst in the nation for child well-being.
Rental assistance ends, but need continues
The Covid-19 pandemic brought much-needed relief to millions of low-income people through eviction moratoriums and federal rental assistance. But the last of that rental assistance has now expired, leaving people with very low incomes struggling to keep a roof over their heads. RouteFifty’s Molly Bolan reports that some states are trying to fill the gap by setting up their own programs.
In March, Minnesota passed a law that will provide $50 million for a state emergency rental assistance program. King County, Washington—where Seattle is located—is aiming to soon launch its own state-funded rental assistance program. And in Maryland, lawmakers allocated $2 million for a similar initiative, though the sum fell far short of the $175 million advocates were hoping to secure. More than a dozen other states are considering legislation that would sustain emergency rental assistance programs, (Sarah) Gallagher (of the National Low Income Housing Coalition) said.
Investing in kids shouldn’t be discretionary
The ongoing battle over the federal debt limit has shined a spotlight on federal programs that support families, with Republicans seeking to cut food, medical and other assistance as a condition of allowing America to pay its bills. As The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, programs that support the elderly (Social Security and Medicare) are exempt from cuts, while those that help young children are often on the chopping block. That should change, she writes.
An idea to give children and adults equal status is to make the child tax credit fully refundable. Currently, families who owe a lot of tax can use the nonrefundable credit to shrink their bills, but those who owe little don’t get cash back. This means that parents with lower incomes lose out, explains Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children, a bipartisan advocacy group for children’s interests. Another alternative would be to make the credit part of Social Security, funded by its own dedicated revenue stream and delivered to families monthly. That would stabilize the program and underline that America’s commitment to kids is nonnegotiable and year-round.
Number of the Day
3.7 million – Number of American children who fell back into poverty in January 2022 after the temporary expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit was allowed to expire. (Source: Columbia University via The Washington Post)