Gov. Jeff Landry’s administration picked the Friday afternoon before Mardi Gras to announce that Louisiana will reject federal funding to provide extra food assistance to children during the summer months. The “Summer EBT” program, paid for with federal dollars, was launched to combat rising rates of hunger during summer, when children lose access to school meal programs. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports:

Jan Moller, who heads the Louisiana Budget Project, a public policy nonprofit, expressed similar sentiments. “The governor’s decision means Louisianans’ federal tax dollars will now be used to feed poor kids in other states but not here at home,” Moller said in a text message. “There is simply no good reason to turn your back on $71 million that would have fed children and helped businesses in every corner of the state.”

Landry’s move comes at a time when hunger in Louisiana is surging, as Jakori Madison of the Lafayette Advertiser reports: 

U.S. Department of Agriculture food insecurity data — a way of measuring food hardship — analyzed by Hunger Free America showed that, across Louisiana, 16.1% of residents, or 727,000 people, lived in food insecure households from 2020 to 2022. This included 211,259 children in the state, 246,137 employed adults, and 149,676 older residents.

Louisiana is one of 14 Republican-led states that have refused the aid. Common Dreams’ Julia Conley reports on one state that reversed course: Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen decided to accept the funding after hearing from his constituents. 

“It only took literally everyone in the entire state telling him that he was being a monster—and probably being haunted by some ghosts—for him to do the absolute easiest thing and feed hungry kids with someone else’s money,” said Kohen.

Blue Cross scraps sale to Elevance Health
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is shelving its plan to be acquired by Elevance Health – at least temporarily. The announcement came hours before regulatory hearings were set to begin on the $2.5 billion merger. The proposed sale of Louisiana’s largest health insurer to a for-profit, out-of-state company drew opposition from doctors, hospitals, state lawmakers and the Louisiana Budget Project, who were all concerned with how the deal would affect the health care landscape in the state. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel reports:

In a prepared statement provided, Blue Cross said since announcing the deal in early 2023, “It is clear that our stakeholders need more time and information to understand the benefits of the changes we have proposed. This is why we have decided to again pause the process in our proposed transaction with Elevance Health. This means that we are withdrawing our filing with the Louisiana Department of Insurance. We are also cancelling the policyholder proxy and vote process, including the special policyholder meeting that was scheduled for Feb. 21.”

Police and prisons over students and teachers
Gov. Jeff Landry called for austerity measures across state agencies in his budget recommendations, with two major exceptions: prisons and police. Landry cited next year’s fiscal cliff to justify standstill or reduced spending on key state priorities. The Public Affairs Research Council’s Melinda Deslatte, in guest commentary for the Louisiana Illuminator, notes that the 2024-25 executive budget comes with some important tradeoffs: 

But the boosted spending on prisons and other criminal justice programs backed by Landry could balloon other parts of the budget at the same time. PAR doesn’t believe cutting education spending is the solution to the fiscal cliff. Educational investments are critical to improving the long-term trajectory of the state. They should not be targeted to balance the budget when other options are available.

ICYMI:  Gov. Jeff Landry’s budget recommendations prioritize police and prisons over students and teachers; courts over colleges and universities. Read LBP’s full statement on the 2024-25 executive budget proposal. 

Louisiana doesn’t prioritize its teachers
For the second year in a row, public school teachers in Louisiana will be asked to work without a pay raise. Instead of a permanent raise, Gov. Jeff Landry proposed giving teachers another $2,000 state stipend. And as the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains, not all teachers would receive the stipend:

Under Landry’s proposal, some teachers would likely receive more money than they made this year, and others would likely receive less. In all cases, the pay hike wouldn’t be permanent or factored into retirement benefits. In fact, Landry might eliminate the additional teacher pay altogether in 2025. The state expects to face a $560 million budget gap that year, thanks to an automatic reduction in the state’s sales tax rate and the return of numerous tax breaks. 

Number of the Day
60 – Number of unemployed workers for every 100 job openings in Louisiana. Immigrants can help alleviate labor shortages across states. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via the Washington Post)