Louisiana’s Medicaid rolls swelled by more than 442,000 enrollees during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the state’s uninsured rate dropped to a record low. That’s largely because of a pandemic relief law that provided states with extra federal Medicaid money, but barred them from taking away coverage from anyone enrolled in the program. The coverage protection is expiring in April, when Louisiana will start reviewing eligibility to see who still qualifies. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Emily Woodruff reports on the the massive undertaking for the state: 

“That’s over 40% of the state’s population, and the end of the continuous coverage provision will be the biggest mass renewal process in our state’s history,” said Courtney Foster, a Medicaid policy advocate for the Louisiana Budget Project, a private (nonprofit) organization that analyzes fiscal issues and their impact on low- and moderate-income residents.

Many recipients in Louisiana – a state marred by natural disasters and pandemic displacements and heavily reliant on “snail” mail for renewals – will be at risk of losing their health coverage, even though they might still be eligible. 

Typically, when eligible people lose coverage because of paperwork issues, they may delay care and stop regularly visiting their doctors, said Foster. That results in expensive treatments as health issues snowball. “If someone has a scratchy throat, rather than being able to just go to the doctor, they may wait until that scratchy throat becomes a bigger infection,” said Foster. “Next thing you know, they’re really sick and then they go to the emergency room rather than getting it treated earlier.”

Foster has outlined ways the state can ensure recipients don’t lose health coverage because they miss a piece of mail. 

Budget bonanza shouldn’t cover up state’s long-term woes
Gov. John Bel Edwards will present his budget recommendations to the Legislature on Friday, at a time when Louisiana’s financial coffers are strong. A strong post-pandemic recovery, combined with federal relief dollars, has produced better-than-expected tax collections and about $1.6 billion in surplus and “excess” revenue that can be spent on one-time needs. An Advocate editorial warns that the good times are likely temporary, and that election-year tax cut schemes could rip a hole in the state budget. It also provides a reminder that there remain significant unmet needs that the state needs to fund. 

The temporary sales tax effectively papered over Louisiana’s fiscal and political problems a few years ago. Nowadays, new state and federal money present a way for Edwards and lawmakers to paper over long-standing social crises that exploded during and after the pandemic. We note only two of them, both of which are the fault of Edwards and lawmakers: the virtual collapse of the juvenile justice system and the lack of staffing in child welfare agencies. These are horrific scandals, because young children in bad homes die. Both crises require money and insight into long-term problems that our state’s leaders put aside amid the pandemic and the hurricanes.

LBP has provided its recommendations on how to reform the state’s tax structure. 

Estimated impact of restored Child Tax Credit
The expanded Child Tax Credit included in the American Rescue Plan Act helped reduce child poverty by 46% from 2020 to 2021, the largest single-year drop ever recorded. Unfortunately, Congress failed to extend the credit at the end of 2021 and prospects for its renewal seem dim. PolicyEngine estimates how the expanded credit would have affected American households and the country as a whole in 2023. 

Restoring the ARPA CTC would benefit households comprising 41% of Americans, disproportionately those in the fourth through eighth income deciles (the current CTC benefits 45% of Americans). It would raise net income by at least 5% for 27% of Americans, disproportionately those in the fourth and fifth income deciles. Poverty would fall by 9%, and child poverty would fall 37%. When evaluating the ARPA CTC’s impact on child poverty in 2021, the Niskanen Center and the American Enterprise Institute projected reductions of 39% and 35%, respectively.

Women are driving economic recovery
Women lost jobs at a higher rate than men during the Covid-induced economic downturn, but they are now driving the labor market’s post-pandemic recovery. Labor force participation among women between the prime working ages has returned to pre-pandemic levels while the rate for their male counterparts has not. NBC’s Brian Cheung reports on America’s changing labor market. 

The Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, estimated this month that 993,000 more mothers were working in December 2022 than the year before, underscoring the role that women with relatively younger children are playing in the recovery. Once kept home by limited child care options and other factors, more women have returned to work amid school reopenings and the availability of Covid vaccines for children. Beth Almeida, a senior fellow at CAP, said women’s labor force participation had already been trending upward before the pandemic, suggesting a pent-up eagerness to return to work as the health crisis ebbed.

But experts warn that recent gains obscure ongoing challenges for Black and Latina women, as well as women with less income and education. The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai and  Luis Melgar

Although a number of pandemic-era policies offered temporary fixes, such as paid sick leave and more affordable child care, little has been done to address systemic hurdles in the long term, according to Julie Vogtman, director of job quality at the National Women’s Law Center. “We are certainly seeing some very positive signs in the economy, but there are still disparities, both in who is back to work and who is getting the best jobs,” Vogtman said. “What that means for women, in particular, is that even if they are going back to work, they are still facing many of the same challenges they faced before the pandemic.”

Number of the Day
1.7% – Average vacation rate – the percent of the workforce on vacation in a given week – in 2022. Americans are about half as likely to be on vacation in a given week than they were 40 years ago. (Source: Washington Post)