Federal relief was slow to arrive for the residents of Southwest Louisiana after Hurricane Laura decimated the region. Slowed by the pandemic, 2020 presidential election, and a congressman who seemed to prioritize partisan soundbites over his constituents’ needs, disaster relief finally trickled in more than two years after the storm. But as The Advocate’s Alena Maschke explains, the most vulnerable residents are still being left behind. 

Despite hundreds of millions in long-awaited federal aid finally arriving, many southwest Louisiana residents, like [Jerry] Jones, are falling through the cracks of programs set up to distribute the money. The main challenge involves what residents say is a bewildering process that determines who qualifies for help. … Some residents don’t understand how their badly damaged homes do not qualify, and they question how that could be determined in the first place since pandemic restrictions at the time prevented in-home visits by FEMA staff. Though a tree limb went through the back wall of her den, her house shifted on its foundation and there is visible water damage throughout, FEMA ruled that Jones didn’t have major damage.

Student debt cancellation plan in jeopardy
Later this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two lawsuits that aim to strike down President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan. Legal experts say there’s a good chance at least one of them is successful. But the reversal won’t be because Biden’s plan was unconstitutional. It will instead, however, be based on an invented legal doctrine that isn’t mentioned in the Constitution or any federal statute. Vox’s Ian Millhiser explains how the “major questions doctrine”represents a way for the court’s conservative majority to strike down laws that they don’t like. 

Even under this doctrine, however, there is a strong argument that Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is lawful, because the Heroes Act speaks in clear and expansive terms about the education secretary’s power to waive or modify student loan obligations. But as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a 2022 dissenting opinion, the major questions doctrine functions as less as a serious inquiry into Congressional intent, and more like a “get-out-of-text-free” card that allows her colleagues to veto federal programs that they wish to invalidate for reasons completely unrelated to what the law actually says. 

Biden’s plan eliminates $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,00 for Pell Grant recipients. Last week, Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, asked Congress to expand Pell Grants, a tool for helping low-income people afford college: 

With each information cycle and technological advancement, the skill requirements of the workplace are ever increasing,” Sullivan said. “We are already far behind, as reflected in our nation’s near-record 11 million unfilled job openings.” Sullivan testified that the best thing Congress could do to address the nation’s skill shortage would be to authorize the use of Pell grants to cover workforce programs. “Education is the antidote to nearly every single issue we face as a nation,” Sullivan said. 

Diverging paths on teaching Black history
While some leaders are trying to prevent students from learning about their state’s history of racism or forbidding classes aimed at teaching the important history of Black people in America, others are mandating these lessons in classrooms. The Washington Post’s Hannah Natanson explains the damaging effects of having different lessons on Black history in red and blue states. 

Tanji Reed Marshall, director of P-12 practice for the Education Trust, which works to remove racial and socioeconomic barriers from public-school learning, warned that the divergent paths on teaching Black history will lead to a generation of children more divided than the current population. “It’s going to widen knowledge gaps, it’s going to disadvantage students from whom this information is being withheld,” Reed Marshall said. “Our children are going to come across people from other nations who know more about the history of this country than they do.”

The long war against Medicare and Social Security
Congressional Republicans are still indignant that President Joe Biden accurately accused them of previously supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare during last week’s State of the Union speech. While slashing the popular programs as a condition of agreeing to let the country pay its debt obligation is now off the table, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman explains that Republicans have a long track record of supporting these defunding efforts. 

Two things have been true ever since 1980. First, Republicans have tried to make deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare every time they thought there might be a political window of opportunity. Second, on each occasion they’ve done exactly what they’re doing now: claiming that Democrats are engaged in smear tactics when they describe G.O.P. plans using exactly the same words Republicans themselves used.

While Social Security and Medicare face serious financial challenges, they aren’t currently “bankrupt” or ceasing to operate as some have claimed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Paul N. Van de Water explains. 

A key long-term fiscal policy goal is to stabilize the federal debt relative to the size of the economy. But it is neither necessary nor desirable to accomplish this by radically restructuring Medicare — such as through “premium support” proposals that would convert it into a voucher program — or by shifting more health care costs to Medicare beneficiaries in other ways. Policymakers and the public should not be driven to adopt such proposals based on misleading claims that Medicare is on the verge of “bankruptcy” or is “unsustainable.”

Programming note
Join us Wednesday for the next installment of Racism: Dismantling the System speaker series, hosted by LBP, the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and other partners. Experts will discuss how medical distrust and health disparities within sickle cell disease affect Black and Brown communities.

Details: Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 3:30 pm. Click here to reserve your space for the online event. You can also view this episode on the LBP’s  Facebook page.

Number of the Day
48 – Louisiana’s rank for most educated state. The Pelican State only ranked ahead of Mississippi and West Virginia. (Source: Wallet Hub)