Louisiana’s relatively rosy revenue forecast is poised for a serious downturn in 2025 thanks to expiring taxes, and the Legislature’s decision to redirect vehicle sales taxes from the state general fund into a trust fund for road and bridge projects. Additional tax cuts are being floated for the legislative session that starts next month. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American Press sees dangerous parallels between the current situation and the years following Hurricane Katrina, when lawmakers made fateful decisions to cut taxes that worsened the state’s budget crisis during the Great Recession. 

The state is going to lose $371 million when the temporary 0.45% state sales tax approved in 2018 goes off the books in 2025. The general fund will lose another $375 million in vehicle sales taxes going into a transportation fund. Cutting too many taxes now is a bad move. As PAR said, “Louisiana has an unfortunate history of squandering its money or making poor decisions when unexpected dollars arrive.”  The agency reminded readers about what happened after a sizable influx of cash came into the state following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature in 2008 slashed taxes, like the Stelly income tax plan, “a move that caused years of budget gaps and financial problems for the state.”  

Work requirements don’t work
Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid and housing assistance are effective tools at lifting people out of poverty. But some policymakers want to create or expand policies that would take away these vital benefits and others if enrollees cannot show they are meeting or exempt from a work requirement. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why work requirements do little to improve long-term employment outcomes and instead increase hardship, even among those who aren’t expected to meet them such as children and people with disabilities. 

Justifications for work requirements rest on the false assumptions that people who receive benefits do not work and must be compelled to do so. These assumptions are rooted in stereotypes based on race, gender, disability status, and class. They ignore the realities of the low-paid labor market, the lack of child care and paid sick and family leave, how health and disability issues and the need to care for family members affect people’s lives, and ongoing labor market discrimination. In fact, most working-age adults receiving assistance from programs like SNAP and Medicaid are already working for pay or temporarily between jobs. For those who aren’t, most are providing unpaid care to children or other family members, attending school, or are out of work because of their own health problems. 

Maternal deaths in U.S. spiked in 2021 
America’s maternal mortality rate dramatically increased in 2021, rising more than 40% from the previous year, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States already has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. But the nation’s 2021 rate – 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births – is more than 10 times higher than the estimated rates of other high-income countries. The maternal death rate among Black Americans is significantly higher than mothers of other races, and 2.6 times higher than white mothers. NPR’s Selena Simmons-Duffin and Carmel Wroth report on the disparaging numbers. 

Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell, an OB-GYN at Ochsner Health in Louisiana who works with the state’s health department to investigate maternal deaths, says social factors, not biological ones, fuel the racial gap. “We have to address the social factors that either are barriers to accessing care or that make your medical conditions worse coming into the pregnancy,” she says. “This is not just about doctors in the hospital.” Louisiana is among a group of states working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve processes in the health care system to prevent maternal deaths and reduce racial disparities. Gillispie-Bell says she’s optimistic the efforts will pay off, but “it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s going to be a while before we see the benefits of that change.”

Note: Last April, Louisiana became the first state to take advantage of a provision included in the American Rescue Plan Act that extended postpartum coverage for 12 months. It appears that there is a bipartisan consensus to take advantage of this new provision, as at least nine Republican-led states have also adopted it

Early education programs on community college campuses
More than 1 in 5 college students have children and approximately 1 in 10 are single mothers. Nearly two-thirds of those single mothers who have children under 6 live at or below the poverty line. Unfortunately, these parents are having to juggle the demands of obtaining a college degree and the challenges stemming from America’s child care crisis. Single mothers are much less likely to complete a degree compared to students without children, but evidence suggests that on-campus child care can reverse this trend. As the Washington Post’s editorial board explains, an effort to put more Head Start early education programs facilities on community college campuses could change the child care equation. 

The program comes at no cost to those who qualify, and for any center to operate, it must also secure a 20 percent philanthropic match. Colleges can effectively provide that match by “leasing” the space for the program, except at no charge. Thus, they can offer a child-care option to their students that is essentially free to them, and free to the students, too. Head Start, in turn, ends up with a robust population from which to recruit children to educate while their parents have time to pursue their education, too. What’s more, college students studying early learning can get hands-on experience right there in the centers. And all student parents can access the help Head Start provides, for example, with applying for public assistance programs.

Number of the Day
3.4% – Louisiana’s unemployment rate for February, a historic low for the state. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)