A new state law will curtail state unemployment insurance benefits, which already rank among the lowest in the nation. Starting Jan. 1, Rep. Troy Romero’s Act 412 will reduce the amount of time people can collect unemployment benefits – from 26 weeks to as little as 12 weeks – and tie the duration of benefits to the state unemployment rate. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports

“This bill is punitive,” said Jan Moller, executive director of Invest in Louisiana, a progressive policy group in Baton Rouge. “The premise behind it is absurd. It presumes that people are voluntarily avoiding work in favor of collecting unemployment benefits, which is ludicrous on its face because the benefits are among the lowest in the country.”

Tying the duration of benefits to the state unemployment rate will affect workers differently based on where they work. Louisiana is a diverse state with different economic drivers, and the unemployment rate can vary widely among different communities and regions.

“If the economy is rolling along, people can generally find a job in 12 weeks,” said Jim Richardson, a longtime LSU economist. “But if they’re in a particular area that might be limited, it might be tougher to stay in that area.” Reducing unemployment benefits for people who can’t find work could have the unintended effect of hurting the state’s economy by taking money out of circulation, said Erika Zucker, director of policy and advocacy at the Workplace Justice Project at Loyola Law Center. 

The skyrocketing cost of property insurance is causing many Louisiana homeowners who have paid off their mortgage to forgo coverage altogether. Many who have not paid off their mortgage are choosing – or being forced – to buy bare-bones plans that come with high deductibles and offer little coverage. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Sam Karlin explains the cascading effects that could happen if a large number of people simply cannot afford to rebuild when another major storm inevitably hits again.

The trend is worrying close observers of the market. Federal disaster recovery programs generally don’t come close to making uninsured homeowners whole. If a large share of people can’t afford to rebuild after a widespread disaster, it could pose broader risks for that community’s ability to recover. … “That’s what I’m more scared of,” [Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Louisiana, Ben] Albright said. “It puts you in a place where they just write it off and leave Louisiana. I think that’s a recipe for disaster for our state.”

Many people are becoming frustrated that their homeowners insurance policy, which is required by most mortgage lenders, is costing more as companies water down their own financial responsibility. 

Several homeowners told the Times-Picayune their deductibles – what a policyholder has to pay out of pocket in the event of a loss – have risen from a manageable, fixed amount to as much as 5% of the home’s value. That effectively means that many homeowners will have to pay for a new roof themselves if a hurricane rips it off. And that’s not all. Many insurers are refusing to write policies at all for roofs that are older than 5 or 10 years. And many are adding riders that say they’ll only pay for a percentage of the roof, depending on how old it is.

Louisiana’s effort to expand broadband internet to rural areas is behind schedule and facing challenges, according to a new report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The state used federal pandemic funds to create programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities, to help provide this crucial technology. But as the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephen Marcantel explains, the audit found some red flags with the rollout:

According to FCC rules, 40% of RDOF-funded projects are to be completed by the end of 2024, with later arrivals due by the end of 2025. Only 10% of the 146,203 RDOF projects have been completed, with three out of 10 providers still only in the planning phase. The auditors seemed uncertain that providers would meet the end-of-year deadline. … The report also stated that ConnectLA lacked the necessary staff to do its job effectively. While it might not be an issue at the moment, the auditors warn that as the program enters the GUMBO 2.0 phase, the scale will increase exponentially and may overwhelm the office. 

The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Elyse Carmosino explains how this delay is affecting rural school districts: 

Meanwhile, in areas where reliable internet remains elusive, educators and district officials say help can’t come soon enough. [Donnie] Choate, the Bienville Parish Schools technology coordinator, said that federal grants during the pandemic allowed the parish to purchase large quantities of hotspots for students. However, they have proved to be an imperfect solution. “The issue is even hotspots are relying on cell phone towers,” he said. “If a kid is in an area that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage, those hotspots are useless if they’re trying to do their work from home.”

The inspiring story of Elijah Hogan, a homeless student who became Walter L. Cohen High School’s 2024 valedictorian, is bringing attention to the growing problem of unhoused children in New Orleans. Currently, the Covenant House is the only youth shelter intake center in the Crescent City. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Joni Hess explains the causes and potential solutions to solving New Orleans’ youth homelessness problem: 

Robertson said the causes of youth homelessness vary, but a major contributor is the lack of affordable housing. Families may choose to split up, with the adults living on the street and their children staying in the shelter. “We also see youth aging out of the foster care system and being thrown in the deep end,” she said. Covenant House Director of Non-Residential Services Deneen Jackson said a lack of mental health and substance abuse resources are also a huge factor.

New Orleans has used federal American Rescue Plan funds to create the Office of Homeless Services and Strategy, which helps transition unsheltered people to permanent housing. 

11% – Percentage of Louisiana workers that actually receive unemployment insurance benefits, the third-lowest in the nation. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities via The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate)