Monday, March 02, 2009

The Other Louisiana

Some time ago, I asked what Louisiana does Senator David Vitter, who opposed the S-Chip reauthorization in 2007, live in.

After Bobby Jindal's speech and his rejection of some of the stimulus funds, I have to ask the same of him.

I am really at the point where I can't utter much more than, "How dare his ruthlessly ambitious, selfish, trying-to-score-a-political point ass do that?"

From my micro-viewpoint of the north-central/northeastern portion of the state, I'd just like to point out people in Louisiana are suffering. There have already been budget cuts and guess where those disproportionately occur?

Higher (public) education and health care. This is a result of politics as usual in Louisiana:
Over the years, lawmakers have locked more than half the state's income into specific programs -- everything from elementary and secondary education dollars to wildlife and fisheries funds -- making the money largely protected from budget cuts. When the state faces a deficit, the governor and lawmakers have little discretion to cut those shielded programs.

That situation leaves Louisiana's public colleges and health care programs to take the largest hit in tight budget years. They are the two largest areas of unprotected spending.


Higher education and health care could lose more than $380 million each in budget cuts next year because the state is expected to bring in $1.2 billion less in state general fund revenue in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
If you look at that Vitter post you can see some of the dismal statistics re: health care (and access to it) in Louisiana. But here is a summary from LPB's Louisiana Public Square January "Backgrounder" entitled "Guarded Condition: Healthcare in Louisiana":
Louisiana is one state away from leading the nation in:

- Infant mortality, with an average of 10 infant deaths per 1000 live births;

- Cancer deaths, which kill 223 out of every 100,000 Louisianans; and

- Premature death, where poor preventive care practices annually kill 11,000 of our citizens before their time.

Health outcomes like these have placed the state either 49th or 50th in the United Health Foundation’s national health rankings for the last 17 years.
Medicaid and CHIP are (again) underfunded in Louisiana. According to FamiliesUSA, that has translated into a reduction in the number of monthly prescriptions covered by Medicaid for most adults, "delayed implementation of programs that provide services to certain seniors and people with disabilities," and "reducing how much providers who participate in the programs are paid for their services."

As if it is not already difficult enough to find providers willing to accept Medicaid.*

On the education side, Louisiana's public universities have already had $55 million trimmed from their budgets.

What that means in my North-Central Louisiana home area is this:

Louisiana Tech has had to lay off 30 employees and had $2.65 million cut from its budget.

UL-M has frozen hiring and had $2.38 million cut from its budget.

Grambling has had $1.33 million cut from its budget.

Friday, I talked to a colleague at LA Tech who asked me about going to the Organization of American Historians' Conference at the end of this month. Someone from his department was going to go, he said, but then travel funds were frozen. I read somewhere that such is the case on many campuses. And adjuncts, already in a tenuous position, are being fired.

The University of Louisiana System could have as much as $116 million cut from its budget next year. That particular scenario:
would result in the loss of approximately 60 academic programs, 1,500 jobs, 3,000 furloughed employees and a possible drop in enrollment of 12,000 students.
The technical colleges are hurting, too. As noted on the Louisiana Community and Technical College System website
LCTCS institutions have the lowest tuition rates throughout the state per full-time equivalent student, and are the most reliant on state funding. Therefore, across the board cuts have a far greater impact on our ability to serve students.
The restrictions are not enough for some Louisiana lawmakers, though, who actually want to see some of the schools close.

Gotta love our priorities.

Lower levels of education are affected too, of course. mrs. o's high school is probably closing in May, after a bitter, protracted fight. She and I both find it ironic that one of the selling points of closing the school and combining it with the larger high school in the parish seat is the availibility of the dual enrollment program at the local technical college. Budget cuts means there is a lack of funding for the program!

The summer program that I usually work, funded by the Louisiana Department of Education, is cut. I'm not sure if its school year existence (when it is held as an after-school program) is in jeopardy or not.

And then, late last week came the news that Pilgrim's Pride plants in Farmerville and El Dorado are closing. The direct impacts of the loss of the Farmerville plant in North Louisiana, according to that article, are 1,300 in-plant jobs gone by summer and 290 contract growers (and my God, their situation merits a posting of its own) in limbo. I'm not sure the article took into account the Louisianans who cross the state line to work in Arkansas. I've already written about how earlier reductions hurt the region. This will be devastating. As mrs. o told me Friday night, by summer, neither she nor her husband will have a job.

This is the context in which Bobby Jindal takes it upon himself to turn down money. And that speech he gave--I'll be honest and say that I focused, horrorstruck, on that image he tried to paint of Louisiana as "regenerated" in the aftermath of Katrina.

A Louisiana to which many people can't come home (not that they're wanted to come back, of course) because of lack of housing** and health*** and social services.

A Louisiana (particularly New Orleans) in which he admits to abandoning the public school system brags about "opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice."

A Louisiana in which state agencies still report delays, loss, and confusion as a result of the 2005 hurricanes. My own experience has reflected this. Just one example: in September 2007, I sent my son's birth certificate to the Louisiana Vital Records Registry for a change. In April of 2008, I called them. The alteration had just been assigned to someone in February, an employee told. She specifically connected the backlog to Katrina. In June, I received a letter requesting that I send in a new check as the previous one was "outdated." I said forget it and went to a local health unit and paid for another copy. I have never received the original back.****

Many Louisianans are poorly educated, in poor health, have little economic opportunity, and little job security. The fact that Jindal can stand there with his fake grin, crafting tales, and declaring "Americans can do anything" while marginalized Louisianans, ill-equipped to withstand the realities of this recession, are hurting, is disturbing. He's keeping his eye on the big picture, though, right? Too bad for the residents of a little state whose realities are getting in the way of the story he wants to be able to tell.
*One of the things that strikes me most about the "Oh, no, universal health care is a socialist evil!!!" arguments is the one that says people might have to wait long periods for health care. Not desirable, but totally based upon the experiences of a certain class. Poor people already wait long periods and the health care they receive is often inadequate. The waiting times at "charity" hospitals (I am most familiar with the LSU hospitals in Monroe and Shreveport and the stories of Ben Taub in Houston) are unbelievable. People sit for hours and hours in ER waiting rooms. Getting in for routine, preventative care at the LSU Hospitals or the Parish Health Units often requires trying to schedule months (even a year) in advance. But as long as it's poor people waiting...

**Click through that whole presentation!

*** Though the shortage of healthcare providers is not nearly as acute as it was as late as 2007, there are still issues surrounding access to healthcare.

**** The other major issues for me, as a historian, have been research related.

1 comment:

RageyOne said...

Kudos to you Elle for pointing a lot of that out. I tell ya, I was seething after that farce of a speech the other night. It is totatlly amazing to me how one can present such a farce to the public as he did the last week. Ugh.

The budget issues across this state are amazing, yet spending is occuring in *some* areas. For the life of me, I don't understand the rationale.

All in all, we are in bad shape yet the picture put to the masses is that we are not. Where are they living? Surely not in the same city, state that I am or that you see from afar.

It is a really sad situation all around.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...