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Louisiana editorial roundup

January 16, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Jan. 15

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a new report about families above Louisiana’s poverty line who can’t afford basic expenses:

Louisiana’s high poverty rate is well documented, but there are thousands of families above that line who also can’t afford basic expenses.

A new report from the Louisiana Association of United Ways quantifies that group, known as ALICE, for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Statewide, 828,255 households — 48 percent — could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology in 2016, a press release on the latest report says. That includes Louisianians who are living in poverty and those in the ALICE category.

The statistical picture of our region is no better than the state numbers. The seven parishes served by United Way of Southeast Louisiana combined have 47 percent of residents who don’t make enough to cover basic needs. The highest percentages in our region are in New Orleans, with 53 percent; St. Bernard Parish, 52 percent, and Washington Parish, 58 percent. The lowest number, not surprisingly, is 36 percent in St. Tammany Parish — but that still represents thousands of families who are underwater financially.

“While we witnessed an overall decline in the poverty rate, almost one in two households in Southeast Louisiana is still struggling to make ends meet,” United Way of Southeast Louisiana President and CEO Michael Williamson said in a statement about the report, which is an update of earlier research released in 2016 and 2017.

United Way’s hope is that these reports will help shape public policy to better support families and create economic opportunity. To that end, the agency is “doubling down on our investments in early care and education, workforce development, and re-entry to improve the economic climate for business in our region,” Mr. Williamson said.

Low wages dominate Louisiana’s economy. Across Louisiana, 66 percent of jobs pay $20 or less per hour. Most of those jobs pay less than $15 an hour, which amounts to $30,000 a year full-time.

In New Orleans, 24 percent of residents are living in poverty, which in 2016 meant making less than $24,300 for a family of four, the report said. Another 29 percent fall under the ALICE threshold of $60,732 to allow a family of four to meet living expenses.

Jobs aren’t necessarily located in areas where housing is affordable, which also puts pressure on families. Problems with transportation and childcare also can limit a family’s options.

Since 2005, housing has become significantly more expensive in New Orleans. Only some of the affordable housing lost in the flooding during Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches has been replaced.

Government and nonprofit groups supplement low-income families across Louisiana, but there is still a gap. The household survival budget developed by the United Way also doesn’t allow for any savings, so these families are vulnerable to emergencies.

The benefit of the report is that it allows communities and state leaders to come up with solutions that are more targeted.

There are important short-term strategies including food pantries, utility assistance, emergency housing repairs and child care subsidies.

Long term, there is a need for more affordable housing, higher wages and job training to fit business needs. The Medicaid expansion that Gov. John Bel Edwards approved his first day in office has made a big difference for tens of thousands of families who were uninsured before.

Quality childcare and preschool must be a priority. Louisiana is “only serving 15 percent of our children in need from birth through age 3,” Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said earlier this month. That can mean that children aren’t able to thrive in school and that parents miss too much work and risk losing their jobs.

The city of New Orleans is wisely investing in early childhood education. The effort started in 2018, with $750,000 in the city budget for preschool. That helped provide childcare and education to 50 children, but another 571 were left on a waiting list.

This year the city doubled its investment to $1.5 million, which will take more children off the waiting list but won’t put every child in need into a good program. An Orleans Parish School Board working group is trying to find the almost $200 million it would take to provide quality preschool to every child in need from birth to age 4 in the city. That is an ambitious goal, but it is vital to the future of those children and of New Orleans.

These are just a few examples of the kind of change needed in Louisiana. The numbers in the United Way report are grim, but they should inspire us to find solutions to bring relief to families and make Louisiana stronger.

Online: https://www.nola.com/

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Jan. 14

American Press of Lake Charles on private school parents getting tuition breaks:

Parents of private school students in Louisiana have been given a way to put money aside for tuition and earn tax-free interest or dividends on the investment. The savings opportunity has been made possible by congressional tax changes in 2017 and a 2018 act of the Louisiana Legislature.

The new START K-12 savings plan is named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code that Louisiana and many other states are using for college tuition, according to a report in The Times-Picayune. The newspaper said more than 62,000 Louisianans have opened 529 college accounts totaling $891.8 million.

The Legislature extended the college plan to cover kindergarten-12th grade with Act 687 of the regular session of 2018. Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored the legislation that was approved unanimously by the House and Senate.

The new K-12 plan is open to parents and grandparents of the 18.4 percent of the state’s children who are attending private schools, which is the largest percentage in the country. The national average is 10.3 percent.

Private school tuition can become expensive. New Orleans area private schools charge annual tuition ranging from $3,800 to $23,000 per child.

The Office of Student Financial Services said a parent or other relative can open a START K-12 account. They can select from among five investment vehicles selected by the state treasurer’s office and managed by The Vanguard Group.

State and federal governments tax the deposits, but not the investment earnings as income if they are used for qualifying education expenses like tuition. Withdrawals are limited to $10,000 per year.

The START K-12 money can be rolled over into a 529-college savings plan when a student graduates from high school, but 529-college money can’t be moved into a START K-12 account.

The National Association of Independent Schools, which serves more than 1,500 private schools in the country, commended Louisiana for starting the savings program.

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We don’t see that as a major problem. Parents of private school students are getting an opportunity to have investment earnings help pay K-12 tuition that can be quite expensive.

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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Jan. 14

The Courier of Houma on the New Orleans Saints:

Sunday was not an easy day for the New Orleans Saints or their many fans.

After a meaningless game in the last week of the regular season and an off week during the first week of the playoffs, the Saints looked a bit rusty at the start of their matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, falling behind 14-0 and victimizing themselves with uncharacteristic errors.

Fortunately, the Black and Gold found their footing and did enough over the remainder of the game to come away with a victory, moving ... one game closer to a trip to the Super Bowl.

The Los Angeles Rams now stand in the Saints’ way of a return trip to the championship game, and the two teams will play each other Sunday at the Superdome.

The Dome, which offers the home team a huge advantage with their raucous fans, will surely be rocking once again as fans, players and coaches understand the significance of the NFC Championship game and what the Saints have to gain.

The upcoming game, too, is unlikely to be an easy one. The Rams are a good team. Although the Saints ... handed them their first loss of the season, they have proven for weeks that they will be a tough team to beat.

But the Saints are up to the task. After such a horrendous start in Sunday’s game, the Black and Gold dominated the Eagles, scoring 20 straight points and securing the victory with a timely interception.

The defense will once again be asked to stop a powerful offense. The Rams are one of the league’s best, and they will give the resurgent defense a stiff test.

But the Saints will offer their own offensive challenge. Drew Brees and his surrounding cast of weapons showed what they could do against Philadelphia and will hope to bring that same intensity on Sunday.

This has been a wonderful season to be a Saints fan already, but the fans are hoping to enjoy the season for a bit longer and celebrate its end with a championship — something they have hoped and waited for since the team won its first in 2010.

There are no guarantees, but the Saints and their fans are liking their chances for a return trip.

Geaux Saints!

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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