Louisiana legislators – at least in the upper chamber – appear ready to challenge Gov. Jeff Landry’s decision to forgo $70 million in available federal aid to help low-income families feed their children during the summer months. The Summer EBT program would give families an extra $40 per month, per child, in SNAP benefits for the months when kids lose access to school meal programs. Landry rejected the money in February, arguing that the state couldn’t afford the extra $3.5 million in administrative costs. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that Senate President Cameron Henry wants to include the state portion in next year’s budget. 

Henry added that the Legislature is close to agreeing to put up the $3.5 million needed to participate in what’s known as the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program. … Rep. Matthew Willard, the House minority leader, said participating in the program will provide meals to children that they might otherwise miss. “The big thing that everyone needs to understand is that Louisiana’s tax dollars are paying for that program, whether we accept the money in Louisiana or not,” Willard said.

Nine foster children are suing Louisiana’s beleaguered child welfare agency and the governor’s office. The suit outlines harrowing stories of children in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services and asks the court to order the agency to implement crucial reforms. While DCFS has made some changes to improve the state’s foster care system, years of budget cuts, high caseloads and low pay has meant the department has struggled to attract and retain enough staff to carry out basic tasks. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Andrea Gallo reports

DCFS leaders have spent years warning the governor’s office and legislature that they are chronically underfunded and understaffed. … But the state has done little to restore the DCFS’ funding — which former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration slashed nearly in half. The agency’s new secretary, David Matlock, said in a recent interview that the DCFS is in a downward spiral and still bleeding staff. He said the agency needs 300 additional child welfare employees: DCFS is losing nine employees for every eight new hires per pay period, and reports of child abuse and neglect are up by 43%.

Jefferson Parish leaders are asking local businesses to help fill funding gaps for early childhood education seats. The vast majority of brain development occurs before children turn 5, making access to high-quality early care and education programs essential for future success. But the parish has no tax dedicated for its early childhood education program. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Marie Fazio reports

[Jefferson Parish Council member Scott] Walker, who serves on the advisory board of Jefferson Ready Start Network, said the parish council likely won’t ask voters for another tax to fund early childhood education, which New Orleans successfully did in 2022. But he said that he would consider appropriating funds from an existing millage to fund more seats. In Jefferson Parish there are about 28,000 children under age 5. Between 15,000 to 20,000 of those children could qualify for the program, depending on metrics used, Stricklin said. Only about 5,000 of those children are in publicly funded seats. 

Access to early childhood education also has economic benefits, as it enables working parents, especially working moms, to stay in the workforce.

[University of New Orleans economics professor Ali] Bustamante said that the lack of affordable childcare options can be felt throughout the local economy, from draining income from cash-strapped parents to creating higher employee turnover rates for local businesses

Faculty and staff at public colleges and universities would be allowed to switch to a defined-benefits retirement plan similar to what’s available for state employees under legislation moving through the House. Early in their careers, faculty members must choose a path toward retirement: an optional retirement plan, which allows them to take accrued benefits with them if they leave for another job outside of Louisiana, or the more lucrative state system. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson explains how Rep. Barbara Freiberg’s House Bill 31 aims to retain faculty: 

“We have about 6,000 employees in higher education who are worried about can they afford to retire,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in support of Freiberg’s bill. “We don’t want them to leave our state for better pay and better benefits. We want them to have the option to stay in our state.” Under Freiberg’s bill, a university employee who switches to the defined benefit plan would start at year zero for the purposes of retirement. That means their benefit calculations would be based on the switch-ver date, not when their employment began, although they would retain contributions to their optional retirement plans. 

$1.2 billion – Amount of tax revenue that Louisiana loses annually because of a lack of affordable childcare options for parents. (Source: The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate)