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Plus: Tennessee expels Black lawmakers; Liberal Democrats score wins in the Midwest; Connecticut governor insults Houston; and more news to use from around the country.
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It’s Friday, April 7, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. It’s been a busy week with high-stakes elections and the expulsion of two state lawmakers in Tennessee. We’ll have more on that below, but first we start in Massachusetts.
That’s where more than half a million families receiving food aid will start getting a little extra from the state starting today.
The boost is part of a $388 million supplemental budget Gov. Maura Healey signed last week. A third of that money would go to creating an "offramp" for the now-expired federal enhancement to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
During the pandemic, Congress temporarily increased SNAP benefits. Households received a minimum of $95 in supplemental benefits per month. With the termination of these extra benefits, the federal minimum monthly SNAP benefit drops to $23.
The Massachusetts budget agreement cushions that blow. Officials expect more than 630,000 Massachusetts families over the next three months will receive payments worth up to 40% of the previous federal benefit, with the minimum set at $38.
“Providing a glide path for SNAP recipients losing critical nutrition benefits and ensuring school meals for all continues in this school year will help to offset the overall impact of individuals and households who are struggling with food access,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank, in a statement.
The Massachusetts bill comes as inflation remains high, particularly for food. Food prices were 10% higher in January 2023 than a year before. Those prices are expected to continue to increase by 7.8% over the course of the next year.
Many experts worry that inflation, the national expiration of the enhanced SNAP benefits and the end of other emergency supports like the child tax credit are leading to a “hunger cliff,” where households are seeing a large decrease in benefits that makes it more difficult to put food on the table.
States, food banks and assistance groups have been scrambling to prepare for the onslaught of people struggling with hunger, especially kids and older Americans. Gina Plata-Nino, SNAP deputy director at the nonpartisan Food Research & Action Center, said that anecdotally food pantries have already reported seeing steadily increasing numbers of people needing help.
“Food pantry providers have seen more people since the end of the emergency SNAP allotment. But they can only do so much,” says Plata-Nino, noting how many more people the government program reaches. “For every meal a food bank provides, SNAP provides nine.”
The Massachusetts benefits have only been funded through June, when the budget year ends. But the short-term fix expires at a critical time, according to Plata-Nino, because “it ends in June when kids get out of school.”
Plata-Nino said New Jersey came up with a more permanent solution in February. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that ensures that SNAP beneficiaries receive a minimum of $95 in monthly benefits per household, matching the enhanced federal benefits that ended last month.
In publicizing the Massachusetts budget deal, Healey’s administration has stressed that the investment is a good one as it largely goes back into the local economy.
"SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger—and also supports our local grocery stores and farmers," Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh said in a press release.
Enhancements are just one piece of the puzzle, added Plata-Nino, saying states can do more to make the application process less difficult. “SNAP is so burdensome in terms of applying for the benefit. People have to report at certain times, and if they don’t, they have to reapply.”
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. Have a great weekend.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- Expelled. Ten days after a shooter unloaded 152 rounds inside a Nashville school and killed six people, Tennessee House Republicans on Thursday expelled two Democratic lawmakers for breaking House rules and mounting a gun-reform protest on the chamber's floor. “I broke the rules. What I did not break is my oath,” said Rep. Justin Jones, a Democrat from Nashville, speaking to the Tennessee House before the Republican-led chamber approved a resolution to expel him. The body also expelled fellow lawmaker Justin Pearson, a Democrat from Memphis, but did not expel a third lawmaker, Rep. Gloria Johnson. Jones and Pearson are Black. Johnson is white. The action reflects a rightward shift for Tennessee over the last decade, as it went from moderate to one of the most conservative governments in the country.
- Chicago’s new progressive mayor. Brandon Johnson, a progressive Democrat and former teacher, defeated moderate Democrat Paul Vallas to become the next mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, a stunning rebuke of the political establishment. His victory may have pointed a way forward for the party on the fraught issue of crime. Johnson walked back his position on budget cuts to Chicago’s police force, but he continued to advocate for a different approach to public safety. Instead of more police on the beat, he called for economic and community development, more social workers and mental health professionals, and more detectives to solve the crimes that are committed.
- The other mayoral elections. The two best-funded candidates in Denver’s crowded mayoral election are likely to face each other in a June runoff. Mike Johnston, a former state senator and onetime candidate for both Colorado governor and U.S. Senate, led the 16-way race. Kelly Brough, a former chief of staff to then-Mayor John Hickenlooper and the longtime head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, trailed Johnston. Meanwhile, the Colorado Springs mayoral election is also headed to a runoff. The incumbent mayor in Madison, Wisconsin, won her reelection, and both incumbents in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lincoln, Nebraska, appear poised to win as well. Finally, a Republican unseated an incumbent Democrat in the Springfield, Illinois, mayoral race.
- Liberals flip court in Wisconsin. Democrats notched a major victory in Wisconsin Tuesday when their preferred candidate, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz handily beat conservative former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly for a vacant seat on the state’s highest court. Her win could be pivotal in Wisconsin’s contentious political landscape, because the high court could hear challenges to heavily gerrymandered political maps Republicans drew for state legislative districts. The justices are also likely to hear a challenge to Wisconsin’s recently reinstated 1849 criminal ban on abortions.
- Biden holds firm on water rule. President Joe Biden on Thursday vetoed a measure that would limit the kinds of wetlands that federal agencies can regulate under the Clean Water Act. A handful of congressional Democrats crossed party lines in both chambers to join Republicans in rolling back a rule that is unpopular with the agriculture industry and county officials. Farmers see the regulation as an obstacle to operations on private property with wetlands, while environmentalists see it as crucial to keeping waterways clean. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the issue by June.
- “Monster trains” derailing. A new report suggests one reason for a string of dangerous freight rail derailments in recent years is the industry’s increased reliance on “monster trains” that stretch for two or even three miles. The Federal Railroad Administration says it lacks enough evidence that these long trains pose a particular risk. But ProPublica discovered it is a quandary of the agency’s own making: It doesn’t require companies to provide certain basic information after accidents—notably, the length of the train—that would allow it to assess once and for all the extent of the danger.
- Do police hiring bonuses work? Seattle's cash bonuses for new police recruits don’t appear to be achieving their goal of keeping the department’s ranks full—at least not yet. The total number of Seattle police officers has declined since January, despite new incentives put in place in August. Under the plan, new recruits receive $7,500 signing bonuses, and officers making lateral moves from other departments get bonuses up to $30,000. But city officials say it's still too early to rule the incentive program a success or failure.
- Fewer gun regulations. More people in Florida will be able to carry guns without a permit and without any training starting in July, under a law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Monday. Gun safety advocacy groups say the law will make the public less safe. Gun rights advocates criticize the bill for falling short of their goal of allowing people to openly carry guns in public. Meanwhile, a federal judge struck down a Minnesota law barring 18- to 20-year-olds from obtaining permits to carry handguns in public. The judge said she had to follow a Supreme Court decision from last year that invalidated New York gun restrictions. The high court’s decision, she explained, "makes clear that today's policy considerations play no role in an analytical framework that begins and ends more than two hundred years ago."
- Phasing out diesel truck sales. The Biden administration approved a waiver to allow California to set its own emissions standards for semi-trucks, a move that could help accelerate the nationwide movement toward heavy-duty vehicles that don’t run on fossil fuels. Between 40% and 75% of California heavy-duty vehicles must be zero emissions by 2035, depending on the size and class of vehicle.
- Stocking up on the abortion pill. Washington state has stockpiled a four-year supply of an abortion pill in anticipation of a court ruling that could limit its availability. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the Department of Corrections, which has a pharmacy license, to buy 30,000 doses of mifepristone. State lawmakers also have introduced legislation to authorize the department to sell or distribute the drug to licensed providers.
- Child sex abuse victims. A long-stalled measure that could help victims of child sexual abuse appears close to passing in Maryland. House members gave a standing ovation when the Child Victims Act cleared the chamber this week, and an identical measure previously passed the Senate. The legislation would allow survivors to sue their abusers or organizations that harbored them “at any time.” Maryland Democratic Gov. Wes Moore plans to sign the legislation once it reaches his desk. Meanwhile, the Maryland attorney general released the results of a four-year state investigation that found that Maryland’s Catholic archdiocese covered up child sexual abuse and torture for 80 years and, in some cases, paved the way for further abuse.
- Loosening campaign finance. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a controversial overhaul of New Jersey’s campaign finance system Monday that drastically raises limits on political giving, curbs investigations of campaign finance violations and loosens the state’s pay-to-play law. The measure, which was met with broad opposition from good government groups, will preempt local laws meant to prevent officials from driving contracts to donors and instead require all governments to abide by the state’s pay-to-play law, which the bill weakens.
Picture of the Week
It’s spring, and in St. Paul, Minnesota, that’s asphalt season. City officials on Thursday celebrated the opening of the city's asphalt plant—a sure sign of spring there. Public Works Director Sean Kershaw said this winter was “the worst season for potholes we've ever had— because of the weather we had … and because of the age of our streets.” The city is one of just a few in the country to own and operate an asphalt facility. (Photo by John Autey / MediaNews Group / St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)
What They’re Saying
"After winning the semifinals, you walk around downtown Houston, which is butt-ugly. Not much there."
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, talking about his visit to the city to watch the NCAA tournament championship earlier this week on WPLR-FM's "Chaz and AJ" show. The University of Connecticut men's basketball team beat Diego State to win its fifth title on Monday. The comments sparked a tiffwith the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, also a Democrat, who responded that he did not appreciate the governor "throwing shade" at his city after it went to the trouble to "feed you, dine you, host you, house you. … And you're going to go back and talk about 'butt-ugly?' Which end was he looking from?" Turner said on KHOU-TV.
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Milwaukee County Set to Install Harm-Reduction Vending Machines
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States Grapple with the Death Penalty
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How to Make Office-to-Housing Conversions Work
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NEXT STORY: How Do Benefits Enrollment Sites Stack Up?