The U.S. House, known recently for its complete dysfunction, on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to advance a $78 billion tax package that expands the Child Tax Credit and restores some business tax breaks that were eliminated in 2017. The 357-70 vote included unanimous bipartisan support from Louisiana’s delegation (Rep. Steve Scalise missed the vote while undergoing cancer treatment). The New York Times’ Kayla Guo has the details

The legislation would make the $2,000-per-child credit more accessible to families with multiple children and gradually raise the cap on how much lower-income families can claim to match the amount for higher-income families. It would also automatically adjust the credit for inflation and allow parents to use their previous year’s earnings if it meant they could receive a larger credit.

The tax credit wouldn’t be as generous as the 2021 expansion that was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, and would continue to exclude many poor families that earn too little to qualify. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein explains who is – and isn’t – eligible for the credit. 

Families currently have to earn at least $2,500 per year to qualify even in part for the child tax credit. Roughly 10 percent of people are below that threshold, according to the People’s Policy Project. The deal could help some people in this category, with a new provision that would allow parents to pick either the current year or the prior year to determine their eligibility. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Sharon Parrott writes that it’s still excellent news: 

In its first year, the Child Tax Credit proposal would lift as many as 400,000 children above the poverty line and give more financial support to an additional 3 million children in families with incomes below the poverty line. The poverty-reducing effects would increase over time: when the proposal is fully in effect in 2025, it would lift some half a million or more children above the poverty line and boost support for about 5 million children in families with incomes below the poverty line.

The package now heads to the Senate where its face headwinds from lawmakers who oppose it on principle and for overtly political reasons

A Louisiana con con
A transition committee led by a top conservative donor has recommended rewriting Louisiana’s constitution. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges explains that Gov. Jeff Landry’s hand-picked advisory panel wants to strip away constitutional protections for K-12 public school funding and certain Medicaid programs, which would make them easier for the Legislature to cut when the state runs into financial problems. 

Because the constitution prevents legislators from reducing spending on K-12 education and in several other areas, when lawmakers make cuts, they chop the budgets of public health care and colleges and universities – two big-expense areas that are not protected by the constitution.

Another potential target, Bridges reports, is the popular homestead exemption that protects the first $75,000 of a person’s primary residence from property taxes.

Fight over Blue Cross deal is heating up 
An association that represents some 4,000 Louisiana physicians is weighing in against the proposed sale of the nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to a private insurance conglomerate. A two-day hearing begins on Feb. 14 where state insurance regulators will decide whether or not to approve the deal. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel reports on the intensifying fight over the sale of Blue Cross to Elevance Health.

At the same time, some policyholders and influential health care associations, including the state’s largest organization of physicians, say that a for-profit company from out of state won’t be motivated to slow the growth of insurance premiums and could make health outcomes worse in the state. In an “open letter to the patients of Louisiana” released Tuesday, the Louisiana State Medical Society, which represents some 4,000 physicians, came out against the sale, arguing that “sometimes ‘too big’ is really ‘too big.'” “It is detrimental to put your health at risk simply to achieve greater profits for a corporation,” said the letter.

Blue Cross temporarily shelved the plan last September after state lawmakers, then Attorney General Jeff Landry, hospitals, doctors and the Louisiana Budget Project raised objections and concerns. But the deal was revised to give Gov. Jeff Landry and Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple some control over the charitable foundation that would be created with some of the Blue Cross assets. Still, some lawmakers remain unfazed. 

“Has anything changed from before?” said state Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-Metairie, who chairs the senate insurance committee and is holding the joint hearing with the senate’s health and welfare committee. “That’s what we want to know because my concern through this whole thing is premiums going up and jobs getting lost.” 

Louisiana jails put moms at risk 
The policies for treating pregnant women in parish jails vary widely across the state. This patchwork of treatment can have deadly consequences for mothers and their unborn children. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Jacqueline DeRobertis tells the story of Candis Vanta, who lost her unborn child while being held in the Livingston Parish Detention Center, to explain how Louisiana jails put pregnant mothers at risk. 

Vanta’s lost pregnancy points to a broader problem in Louisiana, according to a recent report commissioned by the state Legislature. Each parish jail is under the control of individual parishes and sheriffs, and policies for treating pregnant women can vary. “If a jail doesn’t have any of these policies or procedures in place, then instead what we see is individual guards making up the conditions in which incarcerated women live,” said Andrea Armstrong, a Loyola University law professor who drafted the report. “And they’re not medical experts who know the type of conditions required for a safe pregnancy for both the mother and the child.”

Number of the Day
$2,150 – Average amount of medical debt that is owed by Louisiana residents. Louisiana ranks in the top 10 nationally for medical debt, with residents owing $1.9 billion in total. (Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau via the Louisiana Illuminator)