The down-to-the-wire negotiations on the state budget hinge on whether the House will agree to spend $2.2 billion in excess cash on projects and programs that help Louisianans, or whether ideologues in the lower chamber will block those investments by refusing to raise a constitutional spending cap. The Advocate’s James Finn has the latest, as legislators speed toward their June 8 adjournment:

Eventually, lawmakers agreed Thursday to let the appropriations panel discuss the spending cap resolution on Friday, provided the committee not vote on the measure until later. The Senate Finance Committee is also poised to vote on its version of the budget on Friday and send the package to the full Senate. With the clock ticking on the session, it’s “time to accelerate the budget process,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said. “It’s just that simple,” he said. “Waiting until Monday only limits House input on behalf of the people of the state. I say let’s go.

LBP’s Jan Moller, in a new commentary, notes that the governor and Legislature have been conservative with the state’s post-pandemic financial windfalls. 

The state budget is a moral document that reflects Louisiana’s collective values and priorities. Do we value children, families, and teachers? Should we seize an historic opportunity to rebuild communities and infrastructure that have suffered from decades of neglect? … Like many states, Louisiana has seen strong tax revenue growth since the pandemic. The state Legislature has taken a conservative approach with this money, putting record amounts away in its two rainy-day accounts. Louisiana now has more than $2.7 billion in reserves – far and away the most in our state’s history.

Work requirements (still) don’t work
More than 11,500 Louisianans could face new work reporting requirements to access essential Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance benefits under the federal debt ceiling compromise that received final passage late Thursday.  The new federal law requires “able-bodied” adults between the ages of 49-54 to work or get job training to receive food assistance. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard spoke with LBP Executive Director Jan Moller, who explained that work requirements don’t work. 

Jan Moller, the executive director of the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Budget Project, said work requirements rarely accomplish the goal of shrinking the rolls of safety-net programs. “If the purpose is to take away benefits from people struggling to make ends meet, then this would work. But if it is to get more people into the workforce, then this won’t.” Per the compromise, adults would have to work or participate in approved job training for at least 80 hours a month to get SNAP benefits. 

The great Medicaid unwinding
Louisiana’s Department of Health faces a daunting task in reviewing eligibility for more than 2 million residents who rely on the Medicaid program for their healthcare coverage. Verite’s Michelle Liu reports on the health care navigators, who play a crucial role in walking people through the paperwork steps necessary to gain – and keep – health coverage as Louisiana transitions into a post-pandemic era. 

The Health Department has run an extensive outreach campaign, paying for billboards and ads, sending pink letters reminding recipients to update their contact information and contracting with groups like DePaul. Medicaid policy advocates, like Courtney Foster with the Louisiana Budget Project, are keeping a close eye on whether eligible recipients in Louisiana slip through the cracks and lose coverage over paperwork discrepancies, such as the state not having their current information on file: “That is the whole worry about the unwinding,” Foster said. Some 280,000 to 350,000 Louisianians could lose coverage through the unwinding, the state Health Department has estimated, though many of those people can be expected to end up requalifying for Medicaid.

Protecting juvenile records
GOP state lawmakers are pushing legislation that aims to fight violent crime by publicly releasing sealed juvenile court records – but only in certain parishes. Rep. Debbie Villio, the sponsor of House Bill 321, says the “public has a right to know” the criminal records of children – even those who have not been convicted of a crime. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American Press writes that the bill misses the mark. Juvenile judges and state lawmakers have said the legislation targets majority-Black parishes instead of the localities that actually have the highest rates of violent crime. 

Judge Gray said the chance of being a victim of violent crime in Monroe is 1 in 38; and in Alexandria, it’s 1 in 53. She said both of those cities are more dangerous than two of the selected parishes. In Orleans it’s 1 in 72, and in Baton Rouge it’s 1 in 84. 

The original House-approved legislation would have only applied to East Baton Rouge, Orleans and Caddo Parishes. A Senate committee added Lafayette and Bossier Parishes to the list. Lawmakers’ latest misguided attempt to address crime rates fails to address the root causes of criminal activity, as state Rep. Royce Duplessis recently told WDSU News.

“If we’re really serious about fixing crime, we need to be talking about early literacy. We need to be talking about assisting mothers who are struggling. Living wages, access to affordable housing, understanding mental health and the trauma that many of these young people have experienced at such a young age. That’s how we disrupt crime on the front end. Not by making identities of 13-year-olds public prior to their conviction,” Duplessis said.

Number of the Day
339,000 – Number of jobs added by the U.S. economy in April, marking the 29th straight month of job growth. But the unemployment rate increased from 3.3% to 3.7%, and the unemployment rate for Black workers climbed a full percentage point to 5.6% (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics via The Washington Post)