The federal minimum wage hasn’t budged since 2009, and repeated efforts to establish a state minimum wage for Louisiana workers have died in the House Labor Committee despite broad public support and strong backing from Gov. John Bel Edwards. As a result, Louisiana remains one of just five states without a minimum wage law. But as The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports, support may be growing for a state increase. 

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell and a candidate for governor, has not supported the mandated wage hike, believing that the move would compel companies to lay off workers. But she provided encouraging words to [United Way of Southeast Louisiana COO Charmaine] Caccioppi. “Nobody is paying $7.25,” Hewitt said. “If ever there was a time to have that conversation, this would be the time to do it.” … A day later, Caccioppi said she took Hewitt’s answer in particular to indicate that chances are growing that low-wage workers will receive a pay increase to make it easier for them to pay their bills.

Education bills to spark controversy
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to boost teacher pay by $2,000 per year – $3,000 if state revenue projections continue to improve – will be central to the Legislature’s budget deliberations during the two-month session that starts next week. But other education proposals are also likely to spark controversy, such as Rep. Richard Nelson’s plan to hold back third-grade students who don’t pass mandatory reading assessments. Will Sentell – in his last story before a well-earned retirement from The Advocate – reports: 

House Education Committee Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, wants to let public school students transfer to private or other schools – and take the roughly $5,400 in annual state aid with them. His bill is House Bill 98. …  Meanwhile, Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, is again proposing legislation, House Bill 242, that would ban spanking, paddling and other forms of corporal punishment in public schools unless parents provide written permission to allow it. Last year, a similar measure fell one vote short of the minimum needed to send it to the Senate.

On teacher pay, an Advocate editorial argues that local governments also have an important role to play, since the cost of education is split between the state and parishes. 

In many states, local taxes are the main contributors to teacher pay. Folks elsewhere probably don’t like paying higher taxes any more than Louisiana voters do. Still, voters in states with highly-ranked K-12 systems no doubt recognize that education is vital to their states’ future, and not just the next generation. There’s an urgent need today for young people who have the skills to fill jobs in the working world.

Medicaid expansion was right choice

Louisiana routinely ranks near the bottom on virtually every quality-of-life metric for states, and longtime residents are used to complaining about the areas where the state falls short. But as The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace explains, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid shows that Louisiana politicians sometimes get things right. The wisdom of extending Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults continues to be borne out by the experience of states that have refused to do so.  

A recent New York Times story highlights just how badly the states that have rejected Medicaid expansion are faring. It noted that the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, or did so just recently, accounted for nearly three-fourths of rural hospital closures between 2010 and 2021. And it highlighted an analysis backing up one of Edwards’ key arguments: Increased access to preventive care and early interventions saves lives. Tragically, the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that 16,000 Americans who lost their lives would have survived had the expanded coverage been available everywhere, as the law’s architects intended. 

Reckoning for families as pandemic-era benefits expire
The federal pandemic relief programs that helped low-income families make ends meet in recent years have mostly expired, even as the cost of basic necessities continues to climb. The expiration of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, more commonly known as food stamps, and Medicaid protections, in particular, are weighing heavily on families’ finances. The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai explains the negative effects the expiration of benefits could have on the broader economy. 

Those cuts, combined with earlier rollbacks to food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are expected to shave off $80 billion in spending power from lower-income Americans this year alone, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs. More broadly, the bank’s economists say slashing benefits tilts the economy further “toward higher-income households that have a lower propensity to spend,” which could drag down overall consumer spending. … A drawdown in consumer spending, which makes up nearly 70 percent of the U.S. economy, combined with other slowdowns, could be enough to tip the country into recession.

Bhattarai spoke with Keion Samuels of Westwego to see how program cuts were forcing a reckoning on spending on basic necessities. 

When Keion Samuels’s monthly allotment of food stamps dropped from $280 to $60 in March, he cut his grocery list to just five items: spaghetti, ground beef, tomato sauce, seasonings and bottled water, which he needs because of kidney disease. Samuels, 44, stretched the ingredients into two weeks’ worth of spaghetti and meatballs. For the rest of the month, he’s been relying on food banks in Westwego, La., and cooked meals from friends or his sister. “That was it. It’s all I could afford, and it was gone,” he said. “It’s hard when you have diabetes. You can’t tell people, ‘Don’t put salt in your food. Don’t put sugar in your lasagna.’ My health is getting worse.”

Number of the Day
1 in 4 –
Number of college applicants in 2021 that cited the politics of a state in which a school is located as a reason for not applying. Louisiana was among the most-rejected states, ranking third for most likely to be eliminated from an applicant’s list. (Source: Art & Science Group, LLC via The Hill)