There is a growing bipartisan consensus that parents need paid time away from their jobs to care for a new child. This is especially true in states like Louisiana that have outlawed reproductive choice in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. But there are plenty of disagreements on what a paid leave program should look like. Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills, in a guest column for The Advocate, favors a voluntary program that offers tax breaks to corporations that do right by their workers – or a separate plan that lets parents borrow from other future benefits. 

The Strong Families Act created a five-year, 25%tax credit for employers who voluntarily offer up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to employees. This measure was incorporated in President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for a two-year pilot and expanded for five years in the 2020 year-end COVID-relief package. In 2019, U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona introduced the first bipartisan plan, called the Advancing Support for Working Families Act. This approach allows new parents to essentially receive a $5,000 advance on their child tax credit and pay it back through a $500 reduction in the credit over the next ten years. Enrollment would be optional.

Reality check: The Cassidy-Synema plan would not offer any net new benefits for working parents who desperately need them. A better system would be one where companies and workers pay into a fund that people could draw on when they need time away from work to care for themselves or their family members. 

EPA drops civil rights probe of state agencies
The EPA is dropping its civil rights investigation of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health. The probe centered on whether state regulators discriminated against Black residents when allowing petrochemical plants to operate – and pollute – near neighborhoods and schools. The Advocate’s Mark Schleifstein reports on how the investigation’s sudden conclusion came after the EPA’s negotiations with both state agencies failed, resulting in frustration among citizens and advocates.

Lisa Jordan, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which also represents members of several of the environmental groups in one of the civil rights complaints, said “EPA’s own data demonstrates that our clients in the industrial corridor suffer from among the highest health risks associated with industrial air pollution in the nation. Census data show that these same communities are majority Black.” “It is also patently evident after decades of community experience, and our experience as their lawyers, that our state environmental agencies will not protect these communities and, instead, continue to this day to amass more and more polluting facilities in these areas,” she said. The decision to end the civil rights investigations was welcomed by DEQ.

White House awards $2.2 billion in infrastructure grants
The federal government is sending $2.2 billion to state, tribal and local governments under a grant program expanded by the bipartisan infrastructure law. The massive infrastructure push includes $46.7 million for three projects in Louisiana. States Newsrooms’ Jacob Fischler reports on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emphasis on local input and addressing poverty and historic inequities. 

“It is particularly focused on communities’ needs,” he said. “We don’t design the projects at headquarters. We are proceeding very much on the idea that the answers don’t all come from Washington, but more of the funding should.” No project received more than $25 million from the program, the maximum for projects of less than $45 million total cost.  The department selected 22 projects to receive that maximum. The funding is split between rural and urban projects, White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu told reporters. Most of the funding — 70% — will go toward either areas of persistent poverty or historically disadvantaged communities. That represented a record high for the program, Buttigieg said.

Medicaid work requirements in Georgia
Work reporting requirements for federal benefit programs became a key GOP demand during the recent deal ceiling negotiations. While the push mostly fell short at the federal level, some state legislatures are trying to create new bureaucratic hoops for people who rely on Medicaid for their health care. The Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein reports on new Medicaid work requirements in Georgia. 

Unlike other states, which would have given beneficiaries a few months grace period to fulfill requirements or report compliance, the Georgia Department of Community Health said people will have a matter of weeks before losing coverage. And to apply, people will need to prove they already meet the 80-hour requirement. …  Laura Harker, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who worked in Georgia, said the work requirements “don’t acknowledge the … fluctuation in hours in low-pay work. Some months, they might meet the hours, other months not.”

The GOP’s renewed focus on work requirements is part of the larger revision of the compact between the federal government and its neediest citizens that began in the 1960s. 

Three decades later, the notion that the needy should be required to work in exchange for help was braided into federal policy, when the nation’s welfare system was converted to temporary cash assistance for people who had — or prepared for — jobs. Such requirements were also added for food stamps. Access to health insurance, many policy experts believed, should not be restricted in that way. That was always the view of top federal health officials — until the Trump administration pivoted. 

Number of the Day
$46.7 million – Amount of money Louisiana is receiving for three projects under a grant program expanded by the bipartisan infrastructure law. (Source: The White House via States Newsroom)