Louisiana is caught between a staggering need to boost aid for children and families and a $750 million shortfall that makes doing so difficult, House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III said Monday.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Leger said. “We have significant problems in how we invest in children and families in this state.”
A recent report by the Louisiana Platform for Children said the state ranks 47th in infant mortality, 49th in low birth weight and 47th in economic well being for youngsters.
Leger, a New Orleans Democrat, said state assistance that helps pay for the cost of child care — the Child Care Assistance Program — serves about 15,000 children from birth to 4 years old compared with 38,000 five years ago.
The aid was slashed over years of budget cuts, and low-income parents who formerly got about $2,800 per year for care while they work or get job training now get about $2,300 annually.
The report said low birth weight rose 15 percent in the past 20 years, and nearly half of children released from juvenile justice custody are back within three years.
However, Leger conceded that many of the most pressing needs carry price tags.
“I guess you see the theme here,” he said. “This is all about money. It is always a challenge to balance out all of these interests.”
Leger made his comments to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Also addressing the group was Stewart T. Gordon, a pediatrician and member of the board for the group that did the study.
The state faces a $750 million shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1.
The Legislature cannot boost taxes during the regular session, which ends June 6.
A second special session of the year is expected shortly afterwards aimed at finding more revenue through tax increases and other steps.
Leger said legislative actions both during and before his tenure, including a major tax cut, have contributed to the state’s financial problems.
“We brought this on ourselves in many ways, and by we I mean the Legislature,” he said.
Leger said bills that can aid families include those to boost the minimum wage, equal pay and Medicaid expansion.
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