Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on lessons learned in 2020 to bring into 2021:
There are lots of ways to characterize 2020, many of them not suitable for a family newspaper. Here’s one description that is: It was a learning experience.
The coronavirus pandemic’s upheaval revealed some hard, painful realities, things that some of us knew all along and others didn’t, but should have. High on the list is that the safety net meant to protect people in times of need has too many holes.
Some of what we’ve learned has spurred real, productive and long-term action.
After watching students struggle to keep up with online school due to inadequate internet access, it’s heartening to see a new focus on expanding broadband. Closing the digital divide will help kids from all backgrounds succeed long after the current emergency passes.
Also drawing overdue attention is the presence of health disparities between people of different races. This is not new information, but it’s been tragically highlighted by the virus’ disparate toll across racial lines. Researchers and public health officials are now vowing to study and address the issue with a new fervor that should improve outcomes and save lives well beyond the pandemic.
Yet there are other longstanding problems that briefly caught policy makers’ attention, then dropped off the radar once short-term aid arrived.
One is the impact of unevenly available paid sick leave for many lower-paid workers, which early on led people who might have been infected to go to work because they couldn’t afford not to. This harmed them in obvious ways, but it also put those they encountered at risk.
Another is the shockingly low unemployment benefit in Louisiana. Absent the sort of federal subsidy that’s only going to arrive under extreme circumstances, the maximum weekly benefit tops out at $247, among the lowest in the nation. Leave aside whether the $600 a week the feds kicked for a time was the correct amount; without subsidy, the payout is just too paltry to help many recipients avoid crisis. The program, as structured, also leaves out too many who are not in traditional employer/employee relationships.
Both of these problems were widely discussed last spring, before Congress passed temporary sick leave policies and unemployment subsidies (the new relief bill includes less generous provisions to address both needs, again temporarily).
But at some point COVID-19 will be behind us and the structural challenges will remain. There will always be people who get seriously ill and need time off, or who lose jobs through no fault of their own. Pandemic or not, neither circumstance should result in financial devastation, particularly for those who do work that we’ve come to call essential.
At the start of last year, none of us knew the difficulties that awaited us. Now that our eyes are wide open, we’ve got the chance to enact policies to help everyone weather whatever 2021, and beyond, have in store. What a shame it would be to let the opportunity pass.
The Advocate on the slow cleanup in Southwestern Louisiana from the 2020 hurricane season:
In storm-torn Southwestern Louisiana, progress can be measured by the cubic yard, as in how many cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the low-lying landscape that rests between Jefferson Davis Parish and the Texas line.
Bryan Beam, Calcasieu Parish administrator, had a ballpark guestimate that exceeds 10,658,191, which was the total collected and removed by Dec. 20. And counting.
The clean-up work may seem to never end but it will, someday: Beam, whose job includes keeping track of such things, says the total debris removed may yet reach 12,688,323 cubic yards — another guestimate, but one you can track. Right now, he says, the parish is about 85% done with sweeping away the remnants of this most recent hurricane-season ruin.
The tab for that clean-up, at $20 per cubic yard, may run to a quarter-billion dollars. Here’s what you buy for that money, Beam says, subtraction from Calcasieu Parish of enough debris to fill the Super Dome — twice.
“We know where the debris is,” Beam said. “It takes time.”
The 2020 hurricane season was unbearably cruel, but in few places more so than in southwestern Louisiana, which was ravaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008. Scientific American said this storm season, which ended Dec. 1, surpassed ’05 with the most named storms on record: 30. Six hit the U.S. — that’s happened twice, in 1886 and 1985 — and two hurricanes — Laura on Aug. 27 and Delta on Oct. 9 — roiled Southwestern Louisiana. Laura brought 150 mph winds; Delta, 20 inches of rain.
Beam said for the first time in recent weeks, people discuss things other than hurricanes. Some businesses have reopened; construction abounds. There’s so much left to do, but this much is almost done: initial clean-up.
When the last cubic yard is swept away, Calcasieu Parish and outlying areas will see not the beginning of the end — hurricane recovery is measured in years or decades, not months — but the end of the beginning. To begin again, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing, got to believe that the slow slog to recovery is worthwhile.
Two centuries back, Lake Charles and environs represented “no man’s land,” a strip of ungoverned land that separated colonial Spain and the U.S. while boundaries were hashed out after the Louisiana Purchase. It’s no man’s land no more; it belongs to 200,000-plus people in Calcasieu and its neighboring parishes, people who’ve endured wind and rain and disaster but built and rebuilt something better. It is home.
Christmas season 2020 was quieter in grim-faced Lake Charles, save for the hum and clatter of construction. New Year’s may be quieter, too, but resolutions are apparent and speak loudly:
Build it back. Better. Stronger.