The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Legislation to Aid Local News Organizations Harmed by the Pandemic's Economic Impact

Posted on May 22, 2020 at 01:04 PM

The Delta Caucus supports bipartisan legislation to expand access to Paycheck Protection Program aid for local news organizations who are suffering from a deep fall in advertising revenue caused by the pandemic. Key sponsors include Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

We would ask our partners across the 8 states of the Greater Delta Region, the Washington, DC area and elsewhere to read this summary of the Local News and Emergency Information Act of 2020 and then contact your Members of Congress about the need to keep local newspapers and broadcasters who were struggling even before the crisis from going out of business due to the recession.

The goal is to get this included in the next phase of Covid-19 relief. Congress is now considering the many phases of relief that are needed. We appreciate Sen. Boozman and others in the Delta Congressional delegation who are working diligently on this important issue.

Almost everyone, of course, is harmed to a greater or lesser degree by the health and economic impacts of Covid-19. The Delta Caucus is focusing on a number of key vulnerable areas, including food insecure families in our region, those who have lost their jobs, vulnerable small businesses, people who lack health insurance, our struggling rural hospitals, lack of access to broadband. Local media outlets are also hit very hard and we focus on their plight in this message.

These organizations are the main source of information about news in the many small towns and local areas across the region and they make a significant contribution to the democratic process.

The bill expands access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided that the funding is used in the process of continued provision of “local” news, content or emergency information.

This will provide aid for locally operated newspapers, radio and TV stations across the Delta who were not eligible for the earlier PPP aid because they were owned by a larger corporation, even though they were operated and managed at the local level.

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act based eligibility on the size of a newspaper’s parent company, and not the size of a local paper’s staff.

The Local News and Emergency Information Act would base eligibility on the number of employees at a publisher’s or broadcaster’s “individual physical location.” The funding can only be used for activities of the “individual physical location.”

A newspaper with fewer than 1,000 employees at the site would qualify, as would broadcasters with gross receipts of less than $41.5 million. These criteria are set by the Small Business Administration’s definition of a “small business.”

The PPP program funds are administered on a first-come, first served basis and any larger companies who apply will not get any special consideration.

Of course, most local newspapers and broadcasters in Arkansas and the 8-state Greater Delta have far fewer than $1,000 employers or less than $41.5 million. Again, these are standard SBA definitions. These limits will prevent huge entities from taking large amounts of funds intended to help local, smaller entities.

Newspapers had already suffered from sharp reductions in ad revenue for more than 10 years as readers and advertisers moved from print to online products.

We would ask two key (rhetorical) questions:

How would you like to get all your information and news from Fox News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other behemoths?

How often do huge entities like those listed above provide news and information about your local region?

Think about a world where only the huge news conglomerates disseminate information.

For your convenience, below is a list of Delta US senators and representatives phone numbers.

We would request that if you contact one of your Members of the House and/or Senate, that you send a quick one-sentence note to Lee Powell’s Delta Caucus email address at Leepowell@delta.comcastbiz.net and just say “I called Sen. X or Rep. Y to support local news aid bill.”

Of course, those partners who have lobbying restrictions either would want to only discuss the general subject of helping media outlets survive during the pandemic and would not refer to the pending bill, or may not wish to call them on this subject, while those without any lobbying restrictions can make a direct lobbying pitch.


US House and Senate phone numbers, 8-state Greater Mississippi River Delta Region (listed in the “Extended Content” section)

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Need for 15% Increase in SNAP Benefits during the Twin Health & Economic Crises

Posted on April 30, 2020 at 01:59 PM

As we deal with the twin crises in the fields of health care and the economy, the Delta Caucus urges all our partners to support a 15% increase in SNAP nutrition benefits as we respond to the worst hunger crisis America has faced in modern times. SNAP also has a strong economic stimulus because the funds are spent very quickly.

As the region ranking at the bottom in food insecurity, this crisis is especially acute in the 8-state Greater Delta Region. Nationally, adult hunger is 2.5 times worse than it was before the crisis, and child hunger is a shocking 5 times worse as we confront what is called “the gravest hunger crisis in modern times” by CEO Joel Berg of Hunger Free America. The Delta chronically suffers worse than the rest of the country.

Please contact your members of the US House and Senate and ask for a 15% increase in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funding, which is a modest but essential increase in average SNAP benefits from the current $1.34 to $1.54 per meal. There is also an urgent need to increase the minimum monthly benefit from the current $16 to $30.

The need for SNAP has never been greater. For example, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance reports that in the first 10 days of April, almost 20,000 new SNAP applications were received—as many as the entire month of February. The figures will only get far worse next month.

All research demonstrates that in addition to fighting hunger SNAP is also one of the strongest tools in our economic stimulus arsenal: the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reports that during the 2009-13 Great Recession the SNAP benefit increase of that period resulted in economic benefits of from $1.50 to $1.80 for each dollar of the larger SNAP benefits, as the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance has pointed out in its current advocacy work.

SNAP spending has a multiplier impact throughout the economy, when businesses supplying the food and other goods as well as their employees have additional money to make their own purchases.

One of the most effective and fastest ways to fight the hunger, health and economic crises is to increase SNAP and other federal nutrition programs like WIC (Women, Infants and Children nutrition program).

More recent research from USDA Economic Research shows an even larger multiplier impact of up to $2 dollars in new economic activity for every dollar distributed. USDA’s research indicates that a $1 billion dollar increase in SNAP benefits in a recession increases Gross Domestic Product by $1.54 billion, supports 13,650 new jobs, and generates $32 million in farm income.

The SNAP program has consistently received strong bipartisan support in Congress, and public opinion polls have also consistently shown support for the nutrition program by two thirds or more of those polled.

(NOTE: The Delta Caucus has a new policy of requesting that for any contact you make to the powers that be in Congress or elsewhere, please send a super-brief email to Lee Powell’s Delta Caucus email address at Leepowell@delta.comcastbiz.net just saying

“Called Sen. Or Rep. X to emphasize the great importance of SNAP.”

This is to have a ballpark estimate of how many people acted on our advocacy request.

Obviously, those who have lobbying or other restrictions will confine this to a strictly informational/factual statement of the general benefits of the SNAP program to the Delta Region, whereas people who don’t have these restrictions can make a full, direct pitch for SNAP expansion in the spirit of the First Amendment’s protection of the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.”)

Needless to say, we need a moratorium on proposals for harmful rule-making that would reduce SNAP benefits during the twin health and economic crises.

Poverty and malnutrition make the Covid-19 crisis even worse: Scientific evidence has long shown that malnourished people are more likely to get and spread diseases like Covid-19. Older people or those with underlying conditions who are malnourished are more likely to require hospitalization, further increasing the spread of the virus.

The twin crises also feed on each other because families who have lost jobs, income or have higher health care costs are more likely to go hungry.

For more resources about ways to address this crisis, contact the USDA Hunger Hotline operated by Hunger Free America at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (for English) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish).

Another great resource is the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance at 1-833-762-7275.

Food banks across the region are reporting serious stress from the pandemic: Please go to their websites to the link for making donations and contribute any amount. Every small contribution adds up.

Government nutrition programs are much larger than the food charities, of course, having provided at least 11 times the dollar amount of food in 2019 than the all the charities combined. Nonetheless, food banks can help fill in some of the gaps for hungry people, and food bank officials tell us that financial donations are the best way to help in the crisis and they do not involve any risk of spreading the virus.

If you want to do something RIGHT NOW to help those suffering from the pandemic’s economic and health impacts, go to one of these food bank websites and contribute on their Donation link today.

Every $1 contribution provides at least 5 healthy meals or more through the Feeding America network, so $50 = 250 meals, etc.

Food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and food rescue organizations can help and your Feeding America food bank network in the Delta aids them.

For contact information on food banks across the 8-state Greater Delta Region who are in touch with a network of food organizations all across the region, see the Delta Caucus website at mdgc.us under “Caucus Articles” and go to the March 23, 2020 article, “Delta’s Vulnerability to Health & Economic Crises; and Request to Aid Your Local Food Bank.”

At the bottom of that article there are phone numbers and websites for the 13 Feeding America food banks that cover the Greater Mississippi Delta Region. They can get you in touch with smaller food pantries and other anti-hunger entities in your local area.

Coronavirus Underscores Great Need to Expand Broadband Access across the Delta--Spring, 2020

Posted on April 23, 2020 at 11:00 AM

The coronavirus is highlighting the Greater Delta Region’s inadequate access to broadband, as many people who are told to work from home cannot do so because they can’t get online from home or experience other difficulties due to lack of broadband access.

Tele-Medicine, Tele-Health, Tele-Education, etc. are very helpful in this crisis, but people without access to the Internet cannot use them. We must drive home the urgent need that access to the Internet is a right nowadays for everybody.

For immediate help right now, those lacking access to the Internet can call 211 centers or other resources for people who only have access to telephones right now.

Greater Delta Region ranks at the bottom among regions in connectivity:

There are several ranking systems; this one from Broadbandnow in 2018 had Mississippi and Arkansas as two of the three lowest ranked states and six of the Delta states among the bottom 15 in the country in connectivity:

· Mississippi 49th, · Arkansas 48th, · Missouri 42nd, · Alabama 41st, · Louisiana 36th · Kentucky 35th.

In many areas the higher rates of poverty, relatively older populations, and lack of access to health care place the Delta at disproportionately higher risk to the pandemic.

For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index regarding the coronavirus indicated that 45.4% of the population of Arkansas live in census tracts that are at higher risk for the virus.

Broadband deserts have formed in the region because internet companies are reluctant to invest in extending broadband lines to far-flung rural areas with low populations. It’s expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to those areas, and it’s difficult to turn a profit without a large customer base. State, government, corporation and foundation resources will need to be employed to address this gap.

An example of the challenges is the plight of Quitman County School District in Mississippi, where 100% of the students have free or reduced lunch and have had to improvise during this period without school time. In late March school authorities estimated that at least 30% of the district’s children are without Internet. The district began sending home two weeks of hard copy lessons when students picked up their to-go lunch in March. Buses delivered the materials to the most remote areas. Many other school districts face similar challenges across the region.

Resources To Call and Request Support—(information provided from ConnectedNation and other private sector sources, USDA Rural Development, and other state and federal sources):

We provide a list of contacts below with resources on expanding access to broadband in rural areas or economically distressed areas, both of which have challenges in getting broadband access; a separate section provides information about organizations that can help people who do not have access to the Internet and have to rely on telephone for communications currently.

We will start by referring to two federal programs, USDA Rural Connect and the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Please contact your members of the US House and Senate and ask them to increase funding for these programs.

Contact information to seek assistance from these organizations directly is below:

USDA Rural Connect—1-202-720-0800; community.connect@wdc.usda.gov

This program helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. Eligible applicants include most state and local governments, federally-recognized Tribes, nonprofits and for-profit corporations.

The USDA has announced a second window for applications for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants, often used to develop or expand connected health programs in areas where access to care is difficult. While the first window for applications runs through April 10, the new window – during which only online applications will be accepted - will run from April 14 through July 13.

Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund; 1-888-225-5322;

Fcc.gov/tags/rural-digital-oppportunity-fund.

· FCC Launched a $20 Billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund To Expand Rural Broadband Deployment Description: Represents FCC’s Largest Investment Ever to Close Digital Divide.

For low-income people or those in rural areas who do not have access to the Internet and need to rely on telephone numbers for immediate needs like food, housing, medicine, etc.:

Note—these are not contacts for investing in long-term broadband expansion, but rather for people who lack broadband access right now and need telephone numbers to seek immediate aid.

211 system–In most areas people can dial 211 to get access to the local Help-Line Center, which can then provide information about the appropriate organizations that can help with various issues such as food, housing, medicine and other immediate needs.

In Missouri, Covid-19 Public Health Hotline is 1-877-435-8411. This hotline can get people in touch with a variety of resources to help during the pandemic.

Louisiana 211 is a single access point for every day needs and in times of crisis including information including low cost internet services. Go to https://www.louisiana211.org/ or simply dial 211 when in Louisiana

Alabama– 211 Connects Alabama http://www.211connectsalabama.org/ For assistance please call 2-1-1 in Alabama or the toll free number at (888) 421-1266.

Mississippi– United Way of Mississippi—a starting point for those who do not have access to the Internet who need food, medicine, housing or other help is 1-866-472-8265, https://www.myunitedway.com/2-1-1/ For assistance please call 2-1-1

West Tennessee: People in the local area can call 211 or (901) 415-2790.

Kentucky: People in Kentucky can call 211 for their local Help Center. They can also find information at United Way of Kentucky at (502) 589-6897

Southern Illinois—People in Illinois can call 211, and the United Way of Southern Illinois is (618) 997-7744

Arkansas—Call 211 or 1-866-489-6983.


New broadband office in Arkansas—Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently established this office in Arkansas. They have a grant program for long-term goals of expanding broadband access in the state.

Arkansas State Broadband Office: Nathan Smith, 501-766-4476 or Nathan.smith@arkansas.gov or Clint Moore at 501-682-5917 or Clint.moore@arkansas.gov

Other key resources:

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a Coronavirus hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO And the website is cdc.org

—Private sector entity with resources regarding broadband access

Broadband Now—Broadbandnow.com

Connected Nation—Connected Nation.org; 1-877-846-7710.

HighSpeedInternet.com lists Internet providers.

University of Arkansas Medical Services has a variety of information about Tele-Health, Tele-Medicine And other health care resources:

Uamselink.com or (501) 603-1280.


Update from private sector sources: In response to COVID-19 developments, some internet providers are offering free services to low-income families and households with students.

Free Comcast Xfinity internet Comcast Xfinity is currently offering its Internet Essentials program free for two months to new customers. The internet provider is also automatically increasing speeds for all Internet Essentials customers. Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are also open and free to use by anyone.

Free internet for students from Charter Spectrum Households with students K–12 or university students can sign up for a new Charter Spectrum internet account to get the first two months of internet with speeds up to 100 Mbps for free. Installation fees will be waived for those who qualify for the offer. Call 1-844-488-8395 to enroll.

Spectrum Wi-Fi hotspots are also currently open and free to use.

Free internet for students from Altice Altice internet providers Suddenlink and Optimum are offering 60 days of free internet service for households with K–12 or college students. Internet speeds are up to 30 Mbps if you do not already have access to a home internet plan. To sign up, call 866-200-9522 if you live in an area with Optimum internet service, or call 888-633-0030 if you live in an area with Suddenlink internet service.

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge On March 13, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge to ensure that Americans would continue to be able to access the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 650 companies across the country have signed the pledge, agreeing to these terms until mid-May:

Service to any residential or small business internet customers will not have service terminated due to missed or late payments due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Any late fees incurred due to late or missed payments caused by COVID-19 disruptions will be waived.

All public Wi-Fi hotspots operated by the provider will be free and open for anyone who needs them.

There are government subsidies that can help with your internet bill, and many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-income internet programs. These inexpensive internet plans, income based programs, and low-income family plans help reduce the cost of staying connected.

Search Tool for low Cost Internet Service and Devices—thanks to Connected Nation for providing this information:

· EveryoneOn.org provides a short form to help establish eligibility for low-cost internet and devices (laptops and desktops) and locate companies based on your ZIP code. This can be found at https://www.everyoneon.org/find-offers.

· Connected Nation’s COVID-19 resource page provides links to low-cost and free internet resources https://connectednation.org/coronavirus/resources-solutions-providing-connectivity/

· The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) provides a list of free and low cost plans. Some may or may not be available in the Delta region https://www.digitalinclusion.org/free-low-cost-internet-plans/

Providers with Low-cost Programs

· Access from AT&T - is offering two months of free service as well as $5 a month and $10 a month plans (plus tax), based on speed, for new customers who order before April 30. It also expands eligibility based on income (household income based on 135 percent or less than the federal poverty guidelines) and participation in the National School Lunch Program/Head Start and is waiving all home internet data overage fees. This pdf provides additional details, including how to enroll, or simply call 1-855-220-5211 (English) or 1-855-220-5225 (Spanish). Additionally, visit att.com/access to enroll.

· The Internet Essentials program from Comcast offers low-cost internet ($10 a month) and is currently offering the first two months free of charge in response to the coronavirus emergency. You can find details here: https://www.internetessentials.com/ . Internet Essentials also offers low-cost computers (laptops and desktops) to Internet Essentials participants visit https://www.internetessentials.com/low-cost-computer to learn more.

Delta Summit Moved to Oct. 13-14, 2020 in Little Rock Due to Coronavirus

Posted on April 14, 2020 at 03:49 PM

The Delta Caucus errs totally on the side of caution in responding to the coronavirus, and accordingly the Greater Delta Region Summit has been moved from May 28-29 to Oct. 13-14, 2020 in Little Rock.

We will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the White House Conference on the Delta, the Clinton administration’s bipartisan Delta Regional Initiative, and the Delta Caucus itself that traces its origins back to that period.

We will look at what has worked well, what we have learned over the many years of work for the region’s progress, those issues where we still face challenges, and dedicate our network to ongoing advocacy aimed at effective action in dealing with the Delta’s community and economic progress in 2020 and beyond.

We will be inviting President Clinton, Members of Congress, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and grassroots leaders from all 8 states as well as colleagues in New York, Washington, DC and elsewhere.

SCHEDULE

We have reserved the Clinton Library Great Hall for Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., basically the morning and lunch.

The opening session will be the evening before on Tuesday, Oct. 13 from about 4:50 p.m. to 7 p.m., very likely at the Arkansas Capitol Rotunda. We have submitted this new date to state officials. Most of the organizations and offices we deal with are working with reduced staff and often from home so they are moving as quickly as they can. We appreciate that everybody is staying strong and working hard during this crisis.

We expect the coronavirus to impose restrictions such as social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding large meetings, washing hands with santizers and other changes for a lengthy period. Dr. Tony Fauci estimates that a vaccine is still a year away.

We have no way of knowing what the situation with the coronavirus will be by Oct. 13-14 in Little Rock and will of course follow the recommendations of scientific, medical and other appropriate authorities.

The May 28-29 dates are no longer realistic, of course, given the gravity of the crisis.

The group hotel is likely to be the DoubleTree near the Clinton Library and we are in the process of finalizing arrangements for the new dates. We expect to get a discount group rate to help people out with their costs.

All registrations and sponsorships that were sent in for the earlier planned dates in May, 2020 will be applied to the Oct. 13-14 dates.

REDUCTION IN REGISTRATION FEES IN LIGHT OF CORONAVIRUS’ ECONOMIC IMPACT

You register by paying the registration fees. In light of blows to the Delta’s regional economy from the coronavirus that are expected to be worse in the Delta than the rest of the country, we are reducing the registration fees from the earlier planned level of $125 each to $75 each.

GROUP DISCOUNT: If you can get together a group of three or four or more people we will give further substantial discounts—from $75 to $50 for a group of three or four people, to $40 for groups of more than four, and so on for larger groups.

The easiest and fastest way to pay registration fees is to go on the website at mdgc.us and go to the PayPal link at the top of the site that says “Donate.”

If you prefer to pay by check, please make out the check to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

There is no way to predict how badly the Greater Delta Region will be hurt by the pandemic. We know that Louisiana has suffered greatly thus far and others may be at some point.

Delta’v vulnerability to the pandemic: While there is some benefit that most of our region is predominantly rural and small-town rather than densely populated—with of course the notable exceptions of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Memphis and Little Rock–on the other hand we are more vulnerable than most regions in many other ways: lower income people tend to have less ability to get quick access to high quality health care, we have larger percentages of people with underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other maladies, our rural hospitals were struggling in many cases even before the pandemic and we have less access to health care than most areas of the country.

Many of these characteristics are inter-related with the disturbing data showing that African Americans and other minorities are suffering disproportionately in numbers of cases and deaths. Clearly the Delta’s large African American population, growing Hispanic population in some areas, and other minorities present serious concerns in this light.

We need to remind the federal, state and private sector powers that be that our longstanding health care and economic issues leave us vulnerable. We need to redouble our efforts and bring about change that will let us be much better prepared for the next crisis.

We had earlier been planning to hold the Greater Delta Region Summit in Little Rock in late May and then an Economic Equality Caucus (EEC)/Delta Caucus conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Sept. 30-Oct. 1, but it would be too difficult to hold two major conferences so close together, so the Washington, DC EEC/Delta Caucus conference will be held in the spring of 2021, exact dates TBD. The EEC conferences have substantial representation from the Delta but also colleagues from Appalachia, the Midwest, Southeast Crescent, Southwest Border, New York, and the Virginia/DC/Maryland Mid-Atlantic region.

Stay safe and let’s all get through this together. Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Caucus and Co-Chair, Economic Equality Caucus (202) 360-6347

Update from Louisiana's massive increase in coronavirus infections--from Feeding Louisiana

Posted on March 26, 2020 at 09:47 AM

This is an update from the Louisiana food bank network, Feeding Louisiana, about the dire coronavirus situation in that state. As of March 21, Louisiana had the fastest 13-day growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

Feeding America officials in Louisiana and elsewhere tell us that financial donations are the best way to help. If you can contribute any amount, please go to one of the Louisiana food bank sites below and go to the link that says “Donate.” You can donate in about one minute.

LOUISIANA FOOD BANK WEBSITES

Food Bank of Central Louisiana Alexandria, Louisiana (318) 445-2773 www.fbcenla.org

Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank Baton Rouge, Louisiana (225) 359-9940 www.brfoodbank.org

Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana (318) 322-3567 www.foodbanknela.org

Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadia New Orleans, Louisiana (504) 734-1322 www.no-hunger.org

The spread of the recent novel coronavirus and its associated disease, COVID-19, have created significant disruptions in the global economy. This holds true in Louisiana, as well. As of March 25, 2020, 1,795 total COVID-19 cases have been confirmed across 46 Louisiana parishes, with 65 deaths related to the disease.

Locally, the spread of COVID-19 is among the highest in the nation and world.

As of March 21st, Louisiana had the fastest 13-day growth in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world;

https://gov.louisiana.gov/assets/docs/covid/govCV19Brief-2.pdf Orleans Parish has the sixth-highest rate of known coronavirus cases of any county in the U.S.; “New Orleans has some of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the U.S. – yet it’s overlooked,” March 23,2020;

https://www.nola.com/news/coronavirus/article_c0509efc-6d4f-11ea-ae50-236ff5752610.html

Significant case counts are found across the state. As of March 25, 2020:

–Orleans Parish, 827 cases, 37 deaths

–Jefferson Parish, 359 cases, 7 deaths

–Caddo Parish, 93 cases, 0 deaths

–East Baton Rouge Parish, 75 cases, 3 deaths

–St. Tammany Parish, 67 cases, 1 death

–Ascension Parish, 65 cases, 1 death

As of March 25th, these six parishes reported more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than 10 U.S. states and territories.

The critical actions undertaken to alleviate the rapid spread of the virus across the state and nation have presented significant challenges to local economies.

–March 13th, the closure of all K-12 schools.

–March 16th, the closure of bars, gyms, casinos, movie theaters, and the restriction of restaurants to takeout and delivery service only. This significantly impacts minimum- and low-wage employees across all parishes of the state. Individuals who did not need food assistance previously are surging demand across the network.

–March 22nd, a statewide Stay at Home order directing the closure of all non-essential businesses and all Louisianans to shelter in place until April 13th.

–March 24th, President Donald Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration for the state of Louisiana.

The effects of COVID-19 have introduced significant pressures on our social safety net.

Unemployment

The Louisiana Workforce Commission reported on Sunday, March 22 that its unemployment applications count for the week had reached 71,000, compared to 1,698 for the previous week, representing a nearly 4200% increase.

LWC reported on Monday, March 23rd that its projected unemployment benefits payout for the week would fall between $11 million and $17 million, compared to a regular week’s payout of around $2 million.

Reflected in these numbers is the statewide increase in need, including many individuals who are now seeking assistance through the food bank network for the first time.

SNAP

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has seen an overwhelming increase in SNAP applications.

Between March 9th and March 15th, Louisiana DCFS received 5,743 SNAP applications.

Between March 16th and March 24th, DCFS has received 30,181 applications.

DCFS has transitioned the majority of its statewide staff to remote work. While its 900 eligibility workers are focused on processing new applications, DCFS reports a decline in efficiency related to remote work challenges. Additionally, SNAP program rules requiring DCFS staff to conduct phone interviews with each applicant to determine program eligibility represent another barrier to rapid distribution of food assistance benefits to Louisianans in need.

Louisiana’s food banks are responding to an unprecedented level of demand, while mitigating declines in volunteer availability, partner agency operations, and retail food donations. We need all the support we can get- monetary donations are better than food, and volunteers are still needed to assist. Precautions are being taken to maximize safety and social distancing.