Commentary

During pandemic, Louisiana’s children move from bad to worse

Report ranks state dead last in protecting children during pandemic

March 10, 2021 7:00 am

(Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Louisiana children are suffering. They are hungry. They don’t have the tools needed for remote learning. And their families can’t pay their bills.

A recent Save the Children report ranks our state dead last when it comes to protecting and providing for our children during the pandemic. And this state wasn’t protecting our children before COVID-19.

In its 2017 End of Childhood Report, Save the Children found that Louisiana children were the least likely to experience safe, secure and healthy childhoods. Based on the average ranking of five indicators – infant mortality, child food insecurity, high school dropouts, child homicides and suicides and adolescent births – Louisiana landed in last place.

These results are shameful. Why can’t we do better than this for our children? Are they too poor, too Black, too Brown or too rural for us to care? Or is our Louisiana delegation just too busy putting politics first?

The answer is all of the above.

According to Save the Children’s “Covid-19 Childhood Protection Ranking”: Louisiana ranks last on hunger, with 25% of families not having enough to eat. Louisiana ranks last on tools for remote learning with 25% of families not having access to the internet or a digital device for educational purposes. Louisiana ranks in the bottom five for difficulty to pay bills with 50% of families struggling to pay for household expenses. With 72% of the poorest households struggling to keep up with expenses, more than half say it’s difficult to pay for food and rent. By comparison, the wealthiest families in Louisiana are getting plenty to eat and can pay their regular household expenses.

In addition, Save the Children found that nationwide, Black and Hispanic families are twice as likely as White families to face hunger and are about 1.5 times as likely to lack remote-learning tools. Two-thirds of Black and Hispanic families report losing employment income.

These huge disparities are “depriving children of the futures they deserve,” the nonprofit states. As a result, the organization is working with state and federal elected officials to prioritize families.

“It’s no one single policy that gets a state to the top or the bottom. It’s consistently prioritizing children and families across health care, education, food insecurity issues … that provide a safety net for families or guarantee they don’t fall through” the cracks, Shane Garver, Save the Children’s senior director of rural education, told Shreveport’s KSLA-TV.

Apparently, our state’s Congressional delegation — made up of only Republicans — didn’t get the memo.

Every Republican Louisiana sent to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate — and every Republican that other states sent — voted against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, which would relieve our children’s current struggles.

Representatives Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge), Clay Higgins (R-Port Barre), Mike Johnson (R-Benton) and Steve Scalise (R-Metairie), all voted no on the bill, as did  Louisiana GOP Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.

Let’s look at what the bill does and see if we can figure out our delegation’s reason for voting no. The bill passed by the House would:

  • Provide most Americans with another direct payment — this time for $1,400. (Republicans proposed $1,000).
  • Extend the federal bonus to unemployment benefits through August (the current benefit ends in mid-March) and bump up the amount to $400 per week. (Republicans want $300 a week through June).
  • Send $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenues declined due to COVID social distancing measures (Republicans oppose any such “bailout”).
  • Allocate $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges (Republicans  countered with $50 billion).
  • Allot $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses (Republicans oppose any amount).

Senate Republicans balked at the cost of the bill and argued the country is close to ending the pandemic as vaccines become more commonplace. 

Upon review, there are no valid reasons or excuses for the GOP opposition, especially not for our delegation. Louisiana needs every dollar it can get to support families, schools, and programs and services to give our children a shot at better childhoods. Protecting our children should not be hindered by political party affiliation. The suffering must stop now, not when the pandemic ends.

“If you are a child growing up in generational poverty,” Garver said, “if you are a child in rural America or you’re a child of color: Each one of those things stacks the deck against you.”

For children living in Louisiana, the deck is stacked even higher.

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Tammy C. Barney
Tammy C. Barney

Award-winning columnist Tammy Carter Barney earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans before starting her career at The Daily Comet in Thibodaux. She covered city government and education, wrote a column and was the first Black woman to work as the paper's managing editor. She worked at The Times-Picayune as a bureau chief, assistant city editor, TV editor and columnist and while there earned a MBA from Tulane University. She left The Times-Picayune for The Orlando Sentinel, where she served as an editor and wrote a weekly column for the lifestyle section. Her writing has won her multiple awards, including the prestigious Vernon Jarrett Award for Journalistic Excellence for a series of columns on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In addition to writing, Tammy is passionate about quilting and singing with the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Praise Team and Contemporary Choir. She also serves as chair of the New Orleans Human Rights Commission. For 17 years, Tammy was married to the late Keith G. Barney. She has one daughter and one granddaughter.

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