Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune says Louisiana children start off at a disadvantage without prekindergarten:
Life is rough for tens of thousands of children in Louisiana. They can’t count on having enough to eat, and their parents’ jobs are shaky. Many of them deal with violence in their neighborhoods, and their schools are subpar.
In measurement after measurement, we don’t do right by our youngest residents.
That harsh reality is reflected in the latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which ranked Louisiana 49th overall this year. That is one spot worse than in 2017.
We should be moving in the other direction.
Kids Count looks at dozens of statistical measures to determine its rankings. Louisiana is 50th in economic well-being, with 314,000 children living in poverty and 393,000 children whose parents don’t have job security. Our state is 47th in education and 44th in health. We have high rates of teenage deaths and babies who are born at a low weight.
Almost half of 3- and 4-year-olds in Louisiana are not in preschool of any kind. High percentages of fourth-graders have difficulty with reading, and a large percentage of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math.
The lack of preschool is one reason students get so far behind. And we’re not doing nearly enough to remedy that.
The Legislature did continue funding for preschool programs for 4-year-olds in the budget passed in the special session that ended Sunday night. And lawmakers used $28 million in new federal funding to shore up the Child Care Assistance Program, which is the only state-run early education program for children under age 4.
The child care program provides subsidies for low-income children whose parents are working, in school or in job training. The new federal money should cover 4,000 of the 5,200 children on the waiting list for services. It will be the first substantial increase in funding for the program in nine years, according to Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
Rep. Steve Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican, had a good proposal this spring for new state funding. His House Bill 513 would have used $10 million a year for four years from the proceeds of the sale of unclaimed property for the early childhood fund. That would have helped further whittle down the waiting list.
But the state treasurer wanted to use the money in other ways, and the Senate rejected Rep. Carter’s bill.
So, the state didn’t invest any more of its own money into these vital pre-K programs for the coming budget year.
That needs to change next year. Lawmakers passed comprehensive legislation in 2012 aimed at improving the quality of preschool. But they haven’t invested nearly enough money into that effort or into extending access to more children.
The Child Care Assistance Program was serving almost 40,000 children 10 years ago but has only had money for 15,000 in recent years. There are 140,000 low-income children age 3 and under in Louisiana who lack access to a publicly funded spot for child care or preschool, Ms. Bronfin said.
The state also has cut funding for trauma counseling for children. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminated the state’s Early Childhood Supports and Services program in 2012, doing away with mental health care for children under age 6 who had been exposed to violence. Then, in 2017, Gov. John Bel Edwards cut Medicaid-funded mental health services for children of all ages when the state was facing a budget deficit.
Investing in vulnerable children would improve their chances for success in school and in life. It would make it easier for their parents to work and strengthen Louisiana’s economy.
It’s also the right thing to do.
The Courier of Houma says a Medicaid audit suggests that better oversight is needed:
A recent audit of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals should frighten and concern advocates of good government and anyone who pays taxes in the state.
For the period running 2012-17, the audit found, the department was inadequately overseeing Medicaid payments to various health care organizations.
“Without complete data that accurately identifies the provider who performed the service, who was paid for the service, where the service was provided and the level of services the provider is allowed to perform, LDH cannot effectively monitor the (companies) and decrease the risk of improper payments,” the audit report says.
Officials with the Department of Health defended their system, saying the auditors did not consider all the information the department uses in verifying payments and services. But that doesn’t do much to ease the minds of taxpayers who could be left with the bill resulting from inadequate oversight.
And these are not small numbers.
The auditors found that 41 million claims worth $2.4 billion that lacked valid numbers for the health care providers. That was in just 26 months from October 2017 to December 2017.
In a state where such a huge portion of our budget is going toward health care, and when so much money is being spent on Medicaid, we simply cannot afford to run the risk of wasting that money.
When there are tens of millions of claims with incomplete information, and those claims reach into the billions of dollars, there is clearly something wrong with the overarching procedure that’s in place within the department.
The time of the audit included both former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term and the current term of Gov. John Bel Edwards. This doesn’t sound like a political problem. Instead, these seem like issues that could be improved within the system.
And there is some indication that that is exactly what is happening. Michael Boutte, deputy director for Medicaid within the Health Department, said it has made great strides in improving its monitoring system.
The fear here isn’t that there were necessarily improper payments made but that weak oversight is a sign that the department needs to upgrade its processes.
The taxpayers of Louisiana deserve to know that their public servants are vigilant stewards of their scarce resources. This audit is cause for concern, but it could be the call to action the department needed.
The Advocate says President Donald Trump’s trade war leaves Louisiana with a lot to lose:
The price of steel is up and soybeans are down: That’s not good for Louisiana, in either case, and those are the early consequences of President Donald Trump’s erratic and ill-thought out trade policies.
Our state is particularly vulnerable to trade disruption, which is apparently all the new administration has managed to achieve so far.
Louisiana needs a reliable trade policy for our exports.
A recent trip from Baton Rouge down to New Orleans by a Bloomberg news correspondent captured the damage felt by exporters, ports and farmers along the lower Mississippi River, where voters overwhelming backed candidate Trump in 2016.
Now, the bloom is off the rose.
The director of the Port of South Louisiana, Paul Aucoin, told Bloomberg the tariffs already ordered, or contemplated by the president, “could cause a drop in tonnage, a drop in crops, a drop in everything.”
A Denham Springs manufacturer of industrial equipment has seen metal prices rise by 40 percent. In New Orleans, one of the state’s top business leaders, Jay Lapeyre of Laitram, noted the uncertainty caused over 18 months of trade tweets and policies, sometimes adopted or at other times reversed by the president.
“At every stage, this is just a bad idea,” Lapeyre said. “The lack of certainty puts a tremendous chilling effect on all decisions. That uncertainty is what causes everyone to just delay and hold. Well, when you delay and hold, you get a compound effect. What our delay and hold means: revenue for someone else.”
These issues have been constantly in the business pages of The Advocate and publications like The Wall Street Journal, but as Bloomberg noted, Louisiana is particularly vulnerable to a protectionist trade policy.
The news service reported that the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said a real trade war would weigh heaviest on Louisiana among the states, potentially slowing total economic output by a minimum of 7 percent over five years.
The U.S. Labor Department calculates that one in six jobs in Louisiana is tied to international commerce, another statistic that we hope will encourage Louisiana’s Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate to speak up against Trump’s reversion to 1930s trade policy.
The impacts of a foolish trade war are familiar to The Advocate and its readers. Needless tariffs against Canada have led to a 35 percent increase in the cost of producing the paper you are holding in your hand — with no gain of American jobs.
We have a lot to lose, every time the president escalates trade disputes, whether with Canada or Mexico, the European Union, South Korea or Australia, all of them allies of this country. The outsized influence of China in Asia is a potential national security threat, too, and “America first” policies might drive nearby countries into the Communist Chinese orbit.
Please lay off, Mr. President, or we’ll see Louisiana workers being laid off, literally.