If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re likely aware that starting January 1, 2016, some 31,000 Louisiana residents will be kicked out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. In the weeks since the announcement from the Department of Children and Family Services, the move by the Jindal administration to trim the program has been decried by Governor-elect John Bel Edwards, protested by workers’ justice organizations, and even blasted by moderate to conservative- leaning editorial boards. It is unconscionable that Gov. Jindal would use his final days in office to make life more difficult for poor people, but not surprising given the contempt he has shown towards the poor throughout his eight years in office.
The federal government offers states with high unemployment rates a waiver of the federal work requirement for able bodied adults without dependents. Louisiana has qualified and applied for this waiver for the past 19 years due to our high unemployment rate. Our current waiver, which allows some 31,000 individuals to access SNAP food assistance, will expire today. Instead of renewing the waiver and food assistance for folks looking for work, the Jindal administration declined to re-apply for the waiver.
This decision reimposes the three-month time limit for all unemployed, able-bodied people with no dependents, meaning that those individuals who have been unemployed and job searching for a period greater than three months will be kicked out of the SNAP program between January 1 and when Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards reverses Gov. Jindal’s decision after he takes office on January 11. At that time, the chronically underfunded and under-staffed Department of Children and Family Services will have to begin the treacherous work of re-enrolling those tens of thousands of Louisianians in SNAP. It’s unfortunate that so much of the department’s resources will have to go toward this effort, and it will also heavily burden the enrollees, who will have to reapply, starting the entire application process over.
Louisiana needs this waiver. In recent years, Louisianians have been much more likely to experience food insecurity and/or hunger than residents of most other US states, with 16.5 percent of households going without enough food in the years 2011-2013. Nationally, this puts us in 43rd place. In contrast, Louisianians faired better than residents of most other US states on average from 2008-2010, when only 12.6 percent of households experienced food insecurity and our state ranked 15th in the nation. The difference may not seem like much, but it amounts to as many as 185,523 people newly experiencing hunger due to a lack of money or resources.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s unemployment rate of 6.3 percent is much higher than the national average, falling behind only four states and Washington, DC as of November 2015. As was pointed out by Think Progress, among others, sixteen Louisiana parishes, as well as the city of Monroe, have been designated “Labor Surplus Areas” through the end of 2016. A “Labor Surplus Area” is one in which job searchers outnumber available jobs, resulting in high unemployment and underemployment.This directly counters the false narrative spun by Governor Jindal assuring all of us that his administration has created tens of thousands of jobs and ensured opportunity for everyday Louisianians over the eight years of his two terms. In our state, this is compounded by the decline in the price of oil, which will likely continue to be disastrous for our economy.
It is not as though our hands are tied, however. Unemployment poses a real challenge to Louisiana’s incoming administration, but not an insurmountable one. An area in which the incoming administration could make a real difference combating unemployment and underemployment would be much needed area job placement and training programs that would help to put people back to work so they would no longer need SNAP. Until these programs are improved, however, we cannot just allow people to go hungry.
SNAP, unlike almost all other social safety net programs, gives no credit towards the requirement to job-searching. So unemployed and underemployed Louisianians who diligently apply for jobs but are unsuccessful in securing one during their three month SNAP allowance are completely out of luck, at least until this waiver decision has been reversed. Obviously, taking away their ability to purchase food does nothing to change Louisiana’s current unemployment situation. The decision will only further burden some of the poorest people in our state. Data from the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that on average, this group has a monthly income of approximately 19 percent of the poverty line —about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014 — and in most cases does not qualify for any other social safety net program. This makes this particular subset of SNAP users much poorer than the average SNAP user, whose household incomes is at 58.5 percent of the poverty line.
We commend Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards for his advocacy on behalf of those set to lose their SNAP assistance and for his promise to reinstate the waiver. For those living in poverty and for those who are struggling with hunger, John Bel Edwards is the leader Louisiana needs right now. It is long past time for a leader who shows compassion for those in need, a leader who will end the years of neglect and contempt towards the poor. And maybe, just maybe, we can start on a true path of ending the legacy of poverty in our state.
The title of this post comes from KatrinaTruth.org, a project of the Advancement Project and Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. Please visit their website for more information on racial equity and recovery efforts.
Just a few hours before the storm was expected to make landfall, my family packed up our cars with little more than ourselves and the two dogs and headed west on I-10. We had never evacuated before. Hurricanes usually meant a few days off from school and if we were lucky, a good foot of rainwater to play in on our street, which ran alongside the 17th Street Canal.
When the CNN footage showed water up to the train tracks overpass just before the I-10W West End / Florida exit, my parents told us that our neighborhood was underwater, but I was sure they were wrong. It felt like only a few hours before that my mother was putting her foot down, refusing to evacuate, while my father pleaded for her to come with us. Three months later, I stood in our yard and in front of me was everything and nothing at all. Black water had turned books to pulp, destroyed photographs, and spawned mold from the floor all the way to the upstairs ceiling. But our loss was small compared to the trauma and loss experienced by so many families.
In the days after the storm, while we sat on the floor of a distant relative’s living room and watched the footage, thousands of people were waiting for help that came days too late. Survivors helped rescue their neighbors and friends while the federal government showed indifference to the city that was at the time, over 70% black. The whole nation watched in horror while families suffered in attics and on rooftops with no water or food. Law enforcement officers with the Gretna Police Department, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Crescent City Connection Police Department blockaded the Crescent City Connection and fired shots to prevent terrified New Orleanians from fleeing from a city 80% covered in water.
Orleans Parish prisoners were abandoned and forced to spend days in sewage water up to their chests with no food, potable water, or ventilation before being evacuated to an I-10 overpass. Children in the Office of Juvenile Justice Youth Center were left in water up to their necks for days before being rescued by adult prisoners. Four NOPD officers with assault weapons open-fired on the Bartholomew family while they walked to a grocery store, fatally wounding two and injuring four others. Governor Kathleen Blanco sent the National Guard in, not to help assist with rescue efforts, but rather to strengthen law enforcement. She told the media, “They have M-16s, and they’re locked and loaded … These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.” Chaos and fear at the hands of the National Guard, the police, and armed vigilantes permeated New Orleans for weeks.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and yesterday former President George W. Bush was dancing at Warren Easton High School. Ten years ago, 1800+ people in Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard parishes died in one of the most catastrophic disasters this nation has ever seen, tens of thousands were displaced, many of whom never got to come home, and later today there will be a parade.
In the years following the storm, public housing was traded in for mixed-income developments, and many low-income New Orleanians were pushed to the edges of the city by the rising cost of living. Road Home money was denied to thousands of black homeowners. The city’s public school teachers were all fired (well, that’s one way to disband a labor union), and the school system was overhauled. Today, much of the Lower Ninth still sits empty, and economic development has been concentrated in more affluent neighborhoods.
So if those are your markers of “recovery” and “resilience,” you’re celebrating the decisions that have directly contributed to our “recovery” leaving behind thousands of lower income, mostly black families. There is still much work ahead of us before we can truly call New Orleans recovered. Because “progress without equity is injustice.”
However, we can be thankful that there are people and grassroots organizations doing the work to help all of New Orleans move forward and continue recovering. We all have the opportunity to support progressive change in New Orleans. Here are just a few places you can learn more: