Federal pandemic-era aid – led by an historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit – helped cut America’s child poverty rate nearly in half in 2021. But the Senate forced most of that aid to expire, as two Democrats joined every Republican in opposing the continuation of the credit that provides cash assistance to help families with low and moderate incomes provide for their kids. The results were tragic and predictable: On Tuesday the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the overall poverty rate climbed to 12.4% in 2022 from 7.8% the previous year, the largest one-year jump on record. Poverty among children more than doubled, to 12.4% from a record low of 5.2% in 2021. The New York Times reports

The increases followed two years of historically large declines in poverty, driven primarily by safety net programs that were created or expanded during the pandemic. Those included a series of direct payments to households in 2020 and 2021, enhanced unemployment and nutrition benefits, increased rental assistance and an expanded child tax credit, which briefly provided a guaranteed income to families with children.

Incompetence is the new corruption
Louisiana has known for years that state inmates routinely stay locked up well beyond their scheduled release dates. The state’s continued refusal to correct this unconstitutional injustice led to a Justice Department investigation that found more than one-fourth of state inmates are imprisoned too long. Now, federal judges are criticizing the Louisiana Department of Corrections and taking the unusual step of refusing to grant qualified immunity, which shields government officials from lawsuits, to correctional leaders. The Advocate’s Jacqueline DeRobertis and John Simerman reports

That immunity is only voided if plaintiffs can prove officials violated a “clearly established” constitutional right — a high legal bar to clear.  While in some cases judges appear loathe to lay the blame so squarely at the feet of [Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James] LeBlanc and the state for problems, they have shown no hesitation in doing so in other cases. “We are seeing with some frequency claims of ‘overdetention,’ now a euphemism for prisoners illegally incarcerated beyond the terms of their sentence,” the Tuesday opinion says. “Unfortunately, many of these cases have come to this Court in recent years. This is yet another from Louisiana.”

The Louisiana Legislative auditor released its third report outlining deficiencies in the way the Department of Corrections calculates inmates’ release dates. 

Calls to child abuse hotline go unanswered
More than one-third of people who called Louisiana’s child abuse hotline were not able to report the mistreatment because of long wait times. The average wait time for calls that were answered averaged around seven minutes. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose reports:

The audit calculated that an average of 6,331 calls per month were made to the DCFS child abuse and neglect hotline from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. Of that total, an average 1,111 callers each month got a busy line and decided to receive a callback. Another 1,183 hung up before their call could be answered, and 218 hung up before finishing their report. DCFS has no targets for unanswered, disconnected or abandoned calls to determine whether its staff is improving or regressing in these areas. Nor does it know if its average 6.9-minute wait time is better or worse than in years past.

Note: Louisiana’s beleaguered child welfare agency has been underfunded for years. While the department has ramped up its hiring recently, DCFS still doesn’t have enough staff to respond to the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect

Retention can’t explain Mississippi miracle 
Rep. Richard Nelson’s Act 422 seeks to replicate the significant strides Mississippi has made to improve student reading scores. But efforts in both states have created controversy because of the practice of holding back 3rd grade students who do not pass a mandatory reading assessment. A Washington Post editorial notes that retention alone isn’t the magical elixir for improving literary standards. 

There’s lots else that held-back students get in states that have revamped their approach to literacy: after-class tutoring, for example, or specialized instruction during the school day, or other types of help that another year of school, a perfect mirror of the year before it, wouldn’t provide on its own. … In Mississippi, literacy coaches have been painstakingly selected, trained and monitored by the state and dispatched to perform one job: supporting teachers as they learn, and learn to teach, the science of reading. Teacher preparation programs have evolved to encompass these methods. The curricular materials recommended by the state match up, too. When kids fall behind, they’re identified and they’re given aid. 

Number of the Day
23 – Number of extreme-weather events in the United States this year that have cost more than $1 billion. This is a record number of billion-dollar disasters with nearly four months left in the year. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Associated Press)