Louisiana’s beleaguered child welfare agency has ramped up its hiring recently. But the Department of Children and Family Services still doesn’t have enough staff to respond to the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect, which have soared in recent months. Secretary Terri Ricks told the state’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee that her agency has added 326 workers since July. But The Advocate’s James Finn explains that the department is also bracing for increased caseloads stemming from the expiration of pandemic-era food benefits

Some families who get SNAP benefits could have their monthly aid amount from the special pandemic program cut nearly in half. A family of three on SNAP benefits could see their amount reduce from $740 to about $335, a DCFS estimate says. DCFS will likely receive an uptick in food assistance inquiries in the next week as people realize the extra allotment has disappeared, Ricks said. Around the country, long lines have appeared at food banks in recent weeks as people face the end of the pandemic state of emergency. Ricks said people looking for ways to make up the difference should turn to local food banks and farmers markets — and each other. 

Note:  Starting March 1, monthly food benefits for Louisianans decreased by an average of $164 as federal emergency allotments expired. More than 4 in 5 Louisianans who lose access to federal food benefits are kicked out of the program for “procedural” reasons – not because they make too much money – according to a new report from Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor

The Biden budget 
President Joe Biden will unveil his 2024 budget on Thursday, which calls for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans while providing new benefits for families with children. Biden is proposing to restore the expanded federal Child Tax Credit, keep Medicare solvent and raise revenue by closing tax loopholes for rich people and corporations and imposing a new 25% tax on billionaires. The administration says the plan – which faces long odds in a divided Congress – would shrink the federal deficit by nearly $3 trillion over the next decade. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Tony Romm break it all down. 

The president’s budget will include some version of the administration’s initial plans for expansions to prekindergarten, child care, paid family leave, elder care, housing, the Child Tax Credit and the Medicaid health-care program for the poor, according to two people aware of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about a document not yet released. The reemergence of these policies, which couldn’t pass the Senate in Biden’s first two years of office, reflects Democrats’ conviction that they remain critical policy objectives for the country and vitally important to their party’s political fortunes, even if they would certainly fail in a GOP-controlled House.

Congressional Republicans plan to release their own proposal later this spring. But the GOP has created a policy pickle by promising to eliminate the federal deficit without cuts to Social Security, Medicare or defense spending or any new tax increases. As the New York Times’ Carl Hulse and Catie Edmondson explain, this would require deep cuts to health care, food assistance and housing programs for Americans with low incomes. 

The outline includes a 45 percent cut to foreign aid; adding work requirements for food stamp and Medicaid beneficiaries; a 43 percent cut to housing programs, including phasing out the Section 8 program that pays a portion of monthly rent costs for low-income people; cutting the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence budget by nearly half; and eliminating Obamacare expansions to Medicaid to save tens of billions of dollars.

Tackling medical debt
Four in 10 American adults – an estimated 100 million people – are saddled with medical debt. It’s a uniquely American dilemma, which deters people from seeking medical care, lowers credit scores and keeps families from buying a home or putting money away for their childrens’ college education. Advocates for patients and consumers are pushing the White House to take more aggressive steps to protect people from crippling medical debt. Kaiser Health News’ Noam N. Levey reports: 

In letters to the IRS and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the groups call for new federal rules that among other things would prohibit debt for medically necessary care from appearing on consumer credit reports. Advocates also want the federal government to bar nonprofit hospitals from selling patient debt or denying medical care to people with past-due bills, practices that remain widespread across the U.S., KHN found. … And the groups are pressing the IRS to crack down on nonprofit hospital systems that withhold financial assistance from low-income patients or make aid cumbersome to get, another common obstacle KHN documented. 

Momentum for four-day workweek
The push for a four-day workweek is gaining momentum. The world’s largest study surrounding the shortened workweek recently concluded with more than 90% of the companies in the United Kingdom who took part saying they have decided to keep the policy. Last week, Rep. Mark Takano introduced legislation in Congress to make a 32-hour workweek the national standard. He sat down with the Washington Post’s Taylor Telford to talk about his push

We’ve undergone tremendous technological change over the past few decades which has created more productive workers, but that productivity has not translated into better working conditions or hours in terms of the time people have to themselves. As a society we can definitely make these decisions to change that work life balance and improve that work life balance so that health and happiness can all be increased without reducing how productive we are.

Number of the Day
99% – Percentage of Louisiana tax filers who use state tax credits to reroute their tax dollars from public programs to private and religious schools who hail from households making more than $200,000 per year. The credit siphons money away from public schools – $14 million this year – and puts the onus of funding private schools on state taxpayers. (Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy via The Louisiana Illuminator)