Louisiana voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment in November that sought to ban slavery and involuntary servitude. The vote came after the amendment’s legislative sponsor, Rep. Edmond Jordan, publicly stated that he planned to vote against the amendment because of confusing ballot language and come back with a different version in 2023. The Washington Post’s Cara McGoogan reports that Louisiana’s amendment was part of a national effort to spotlight the ubiquity of prison labor in Louisiana and around the country. 

As many as 800,000 incarcerated people work in prisons across the country, providing more than $9 billion a year in services to those facilities and creating around $2 billion in goods and commodities, according to a study from the University of Chicago’s Law School and the American Civil Liberties Union. The average prison wage is 52 cents an hour, while seven states are not required to pay prisoners for work. Many spend half their earnings on taxes and accommodation, the research shows.

After the Post spoke with two inmates who work in the Capitol cafeteria, the state Department of Corrections retaliated by placing one of them in lockdown. 

A week after The Post sought comment on the matter, Archille’s mother said she hadn’t heard from her son for a couple of days. Upon inquiring further with prison personnel, she said she had been told her son was on “lockdown” in the prison while under investigation for speaking to a journalist, which included isolation and loss of certain privileges. 

New Orleans plans to erase medical debt 
Last month the city of New Orleans joined Cook County, Illinois, which includes the city of Chicago, and Toledo, Ohio in using American Rescue Plan Act funds to erase medical debt for city residents. Approximately 18% of Americans carry medical debt, which research has shown can deter people from seeking much needed care and have negative impacts to a person’s credit score. While these efforts by local governments should be applauded, the New York Times’ Amanda Holpuch explains how it’s a short-term strategy to address the high cost of our nation’s health care. 

Daniel Skinner, a health policy professor at Ohio University in Athens, said that debt relief was “low-hanging fruit,” considering that the mean amount of medical debt people carry is in the hundreds, not tens of thousands, of dollars. “We need to get the cost of medicine under control, ultimately,” Professor Skinner said. “I’m all for what Toledo is doing, I’m all for what Cook County and now New Orleans are doing, but, ultimately, we can’t come back every couple of years and do this. It’s not good policy, it’s not efficient.” 

Road Home perpetuated inequalities 
Louisiana’s Road Home Program was created to help residents with the monumental task of rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the program perpetuated long-standing racial inequities because it based payments off of the pre-storm value of a property, not the actual cost of rebuilding. The Advocate editorial staff explains how fairness was missing from Road Home’s calculations and warns of the same type of inequities after future disasters. 

In short, the news organizations’ analysis of nearly 92,000 rebuilding grants statewide found that the Road Home shortchanged people in poor neighborhoods while giving those in wealthy neighborhoods more of what they needed. In hard-hit New Orleans, that translated into an average gap of some $18,000, or about a $349 million cumulative shortfall. So it’s no wonder that better-off neighborhoods sprung back to life in a few years, while less wealthy areas struggled and languished. The people who called those neighborhoods home simply had a much harder time making the numbers work.

The case for universal school lunch
School meal programs play a critical role in ensuring children get enough food to eat during the school year and summer months. When the pandemic began, Congress passed laws that expanded these programs and gave school districts broad new flexibilities to provide free meals to all students. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to renew this effective anti-hunger tool last June. The New York Times’ Bryce Covert wonders why leaders would take food away from kids: 

The value of preventing children from starving should be clear in and of itself. But there’s plenty of research proving that it’s one of the best investments we can make. School meals have been shown to improve students’ school attendance rates, their behavior and their academic achievement. Kids who don’t get adequate meals are more likely to get stomachaches and headaches, interrupting their learning. Giving families more money when their children are young, along the lines of the expanded child tax credit, has been linked to everything from fewer infant deaths to higher graduation rates to more employment and higher incomes later in life.

Number of the Day
19,000 – Number of discrimination complaints received by the U.S. Department of Education  in the last fiscal year — between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022. This was more than double the previous year and represents the turbulence the Covid-19 pandemic and a divisive civil rights climate had on students. (Source: New York Times)