Hardship is on the rise across America as the expiration of federal pandemic-era benefits are coinciding with ever-increasing prices. A clear example of these struggles can be found in houses that rely on federal food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP benefits increased during the pandemic to respond to increasing rates of hunger, but returned to pre-pandemic levels in March. The New York Times’ German Lopez explains how the reduction in benefits could push millions of Americans over a hunger cliff as food prices remain high.

The cuts come at a particularly bad time for low-income Americans. Grocery prices increased 10 percent over the past year, according to data released this week. It amounts to a one-two punch: The country’s neediest have less aid to pay for food as it’s getting more expensive. The big question is what happens now. Some experts have warned that the country is approaching a “hunger cliff,” with the number of Americans going hungry likely to spike this spring. To buy food, other families may have to use money that would otherwise have gone to rent or other bills — and fall behind on those payments.

Dr. Ronald Quinton, in a guest column for The Advocate, explains how important it is for young children to have access to healthy food, such as fruits and vegetables, and the role that federal programs, such as SNAP, play in providing them. 

Congress should fully support and expand the Gus Schumacher Incentive Program, which improves access to fruits, vegetables, beans and grains for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants. Lawmakers should also pursue legislation that would expand the availability of plant-based meals in the National School Lunch Program. And the federal government can move forward with proposed changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly referred to as WIC, that will provide a greater quantity and variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nondairy alternatives for recipients. 

Budget reserves protect against fiscal threats
As Louisiana’s revenues have grown in recent years and produced five straight years of surpluses, the state’s Rainy Day fund has surged to record levels. The constitution requires 25% of any surplus to go into the fund, and a strong post-pandemic recovery, combined with federal relief dollars, has produced better-than-expected tax collections and about $1.6 billion in surplus and “excess” revenue. Pew’s Justin Theal and Alexandre Fall explain how important it is for states to build up these financial buffers. 

States use reserves and balances to manage budgetary uncertainty, including revenue forecasting errors, budget gaps during economic downturns, and other unforeseen emergencies, such as natural disasters. This financial cushion can soften the need for spending cuts or tax increases when states need to balance their budgets. Because reserves and balances are vital to managing unexpected changes and maintaining fiscal stability, their levels are tracked closely by bond rating agencies. For example, Standard & Poor’s upgraded Connecticut’s credit rating in November 2022, citing the state’s buildup of reserve levels as part of its rationale.

Reality check: Louisiana’s reserves are still low by national standards, as the Pelican State is one of only two that have less than one month’s worth of spending available. The strength of this fund could be critically important for Louisiana as it faces an $800 million fiscal cliff in 2025 and the prospects of an economic recession. 

What is ESG?
The investment world has been dragged into America’s culture wars because of decisions by some investors to assess a company’s environmental, social and corporate governance decisions. These measurements, better known as ESG policies, have been the target of GOP lawmakers on the federal and state level. Some lawmakers have even suggested (falsely) that the policies are to blame for the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. The New York Times’ Julian Mark defines ESG policies, the controversy surrounding them and whether or not they caused the fall of the nation’s 16th largest bank. 

While ESG has become a catchall term for a type of investing, experts say it really refers to the data that investors use when undertaking “sustainable” or “socially responsible investing.” Major investment advisers such as BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street have all, to some degree, embraced ESG investing. … Larry Fink, BlackRock’s chief executive, has pushed back against claims that his company is pushing a liberal agenda.“We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients,” Fink wrote in January, in his annual open letter to CEOs.

Last year, the Louisiana State Bond Commission pulled nearly $800 million from the investment firm BlackRock because it had been outspoken about moving away from fossil fuels. The commission then ended its 12-year relationship with the state’s financial adviser after its founder criticized Treasurer John Schroders’ anti-ESG moves and outlined their negative impacts on state finances. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue spoke with the candidates aiming to replace Schroder, who is running for governor, about where they stand on ESG policies. 

Louisiana is one of the most federally dependent states
With its high rates of poverty and frequent natural disasters, Louisianans receive far more benefits from federal taxes than they pay to the federal government. This makes Louisiana the 10th-most “federally-dependent” state in the nation, according to a new report from WalletHub. The report’s rankings focused on three metrics: return on taxes paid to the federal government, share of federal jobs and federal funding as a share of state revenue. The Center Square’s Victor Skinner reports:  

The WalletHub analysis shows only state governments in Alaska and Wyoming receive more funding as a share of state revenues than Louisiana. Neighboring Mississippi ranked third overall in the study, while Arkansas was ranked 28th and Texas 29th. Other states in the top 10 most dependent on federal funding include Alaska in first, followed by West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Carolina, Arizona, and Montana. New Jersey was ranked as the least dependent state, followed by Washington, Utah, Kansas, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Iowa, Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado.

Number of the Day
3rd- Louisiana’s rank for how dependent its state government is on the federal government. The ranking measures federal funding as a share of state revenue. (Source: WalletHub)