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 Press Releases

State Receives $2.4 Million From Foreclosure Settlement

BATON ROUGE, LA - More than 4,000 borrowers in Louisiana are owed money from a settlement with mortgage servicers stemming from the 2008 housing bubble burst, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"If you lost your home to foreclosure during the national credit crisis, check our Unclaimed Property database to see if you're owed some money," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We just deposited more than $2 million that is owed to folks in Louisiana. We want to get this money back to you."

The average borrower is owed at least $300. The parishes of Jefferson, East Baton Rouge, Orleans, St. Tammany and Caddo have the largest number of borrowers in line for money.

Treasurer Kennedy encourages Louisiana residents to search for missing money online at or call the Treasury's toll-free hotline at 1-888-925-4127 (Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).

Treasurer Kennedy: Governor Asks For and Gets Largest Tax Increase and Second Largest Budget in Louisiana's History

BATON ROUGE, LA - The new state budget that takes effect Friday is the second largest budget in Louisiana history and contains the largest amount of tax increases ever, according to State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"Over the course of 365 days, the Louisiana Legislature raised $2.4 billion in taxes and fees," said Treasurer Kennedy. "I don't need to remind Louisianians that these tax increases arrive during an especially weak economy. The oil and gas industry is in a depression, and north Louisiana is still reeling from devastating floods. We also have the third highest unemployment rate in America."

State spending in Louisiana's operating budget that takes effect on Friday has increased 31% since 2010. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data ranks Louisiana as No. 1 in the South for state and local spending per capita.

"Louisiana is in a league of its own now, and not in a good way," said Treasurer Kennedy. "We cannot tax ourselves into prosperity. History will prove this point as more businesses fold and more families suffer. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We have a spending problem."

Treasurer: Indictment Shows Budget Costs Can Be Controlled

BATON ROUGE, La. - The recent indictment of leaders of a New Orleans nonprofit organization demonstrates that the state could control budget costs with a little effort, said State Treasurer John Kennedy.

"It was called to the state's attention more than a year ago that the administrators of Alternatives Living Inc. were using taxpayer money for vacations, fine dining, luxury cars and entertainment events," said Treasurer Kennedy. "After the U.S. Attorney's Office stepped in with its indictments, the state finally got around to terminating this organization's Medicaid contract."

Indictments were handed down Friday against Rickey Roberson, Ada Craige-Roberson and Melanie Duplechain. All three, who are related, ran Alternatives Living Inc., which was formed to help people with disabilities. The indictments accuse the three of misusing federal funds from 2009 to July 2015. According to the indictments, the three family members spent taxpayer money intended for disabled Louisianians on the following personal expenses: $9,770 on restaurant meals, $6,000 on college tuition, $17,900 on "prohibited fundraisers," $5,600 on Saints tickets, $600 at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and $3,000 on cruises.

"A year and a half ago, DHH insisted it couldn't find any evidence that Alternatives Living had committed fraud despite news reports of the lavish personal spending. DHH chose to do nothing. It was clear something was rotten at Alternatives Living all the way back in 2013 when it emerged the organization wasn't paying its taxes," said Treasurer Kennedy. "You have to ask yourself how many other people are living the high life on the taxpayers' tab simply because the state isn't being vigilant. Is it any wonder that we have budget problems?"


 Opinion Columns

We Can Reduce Our Medicaid Costs

Malcolm Bird was a first-time father with a toddler whose pinky finger was bleeding. He rushed his young daughter to a Connecticut emergency room, where a doctor washed off the finger and put a Band-Aid on it. That Band-Aid, which fell off in the car on the way home, cost Mr. Bird $629.

Mr. Bird learned the hard way what most of us already know. The emergency room is an expensive place to treat minor injuries. If your kid cuts her finger, just wash it off and slap a Band-Aid on it. If your kid breaks her leg on a trampoline, go to the emergency room.

Unfortunately, too many people treat the emergency room like a primary care physician's office, and they don't just do it once like Mr. Bird. They run to the emergency room when their stomach's upset, they're depressed, their back hurts or they get a pimple.

The emergency room is expensive because it's expensive to run. It exists to save lives, not to dispense really pricey Band-Aids or aspirin. Our health care budget in Louisiana is out of control, and we've got to cut costs. As state treasurer, I'm constantly juggling funds for agencies because revenue isn't supporting expenses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 136.3 million people a year visit an emergency room in the U.S. Only 11.9% require hospitalization. Among Medicaid patients, emergency room use is especially high (nearly two-fold higher than those with private insurance).

In Louisiana, we need to care about emergency room use because we're in the process of adding 375,000 people to the Medicaid rolls. More than one million people in Louisiana already are on Medicaid. Federal and state governments share the cost of Medicaid, which means the taxpayer really foots the bill.

A few years ago, Washington state started looking at utilization of the emergency room by Medicaid patients as the program's costs soared amid the economic recession. Some patients were going to the emergency room more than 100 times a year. Washington state found that 85 percent of the frequent visitors had serious mental health problems and 48 percent had substance abuse issues.

The state's political leadership asked the state's hospitals and doctors to sit down and come up with some solutions. Legislation produced reforms that actually are working and saving the state millions of dollars.

Hospitals now exchange information electronically. They hand out educational materials about alternatives to using the ER. They catalog frequent users of their emergency rooms. They help them get an appointment with a primary care doctor when they need a follow-up visit. They discourage patients from visiting the emergency room to get a prescription for their narcotic fix.

Washington state seized on something commonly identified by health care researchers. A lot of Medicaid patients are misusing the emergency room because they don't have a primary care doctor that they see regularly.

The results of the reforms were tracked for a year. Here's what happened: emergency room visits dropped nearly 10%; visits resulting in a scheduled drug prescription dropped 24%; and the rate of visits by those who visited five or more times annually dropped 10.7%. Even better, the reforms helped save the state $33.6 million.

These reforms still are in place, and all hospitals in Washington state are participating. We should take a page from Washington state's book. We can cut down on unnecessary visits to the emergency room. We can cut Medicaid costs. No one needs a $629 Band-Aid.
More State Government Contracts
Louisiana state government has at least 18,710 consultants on its payroll. I say "at least" because the sad fact is, according to the Legislative Auditor, the state doesn't even know the exact number of consultants it has, because there is no central database listing all of them. Furthermore, the database we do have has been changed by the Division of Administration to make it less transparent.

Many of the state's consulting contracts could be eliminated, reduced or given to our universities in order to save taxpayer money.

Below are a few of the consulting contracts you are paying for or have paid for in the past. There are many more:

* Contract #2000121024; "Educational Guidance Services Contract;" New Orleans South Africa; $1,670,421.

* Contract #702019; "Provide spiritual and religious guidance to inmates at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women and serve as imam (Muslim spiritual adviser);" Haneef Hanee Uqdah; $39,980.

* Contract #733168; "Accompany and coordinate the travel of university officials to China for business meetings and serve as logistics coordinator and translator in China;" United Matrix International; $49,999.99.

* Contract #4400007574; "Outdoor sculpture for community education building at LSU Eunice;" Obie Simonis of Somerville, Massachusetts; $60,000.

* Contract number unavailable on database website; "Sponsor the Aerospace Alliance Reception to be held in Paris, France, in connection with the Paris Air Show 2015 Event;" The Aerospace Alliance; $25,000.

* Contract #717427; "Research on the Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill on Coastal Ecosystems;" University of Tennessee; $551,797.

* Contract #2000125629; "Sales and Business Promotion Activities;" BBR Creative Inc.; $11,412,916.90.

* Contract #2000135946; "Sponsor activities for the Travel South International Showcase in Charlotte, North Carolina;" Travel South USA of Atlanta, Ga.; $35,000.

* Contract #2000121498; "Educational Guidance Services Contract;" Just One Word Inc., $1,015,200.

* Contract #681869; "State sponsorship of Chimpanzee Discovery Days, involving broad media attention to observation of chimpanzees in a spacious forestry habitat;" Chimp Haven Inc.; $10,000.

* Contract #714507; "Research on the Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill;" Rutgers University; $413,357.

Louisiana state government has a spending problem. 
Stop Food Stamp Abuse

Too many people in Louisiana are on food stamps. Every politician in Baton Rouge knows it, but few are willing to say it.

Let me be clear. I'm not talking about our oilfield families who have faced layoffs or reduced schedules. I'm not talking about folks still recovering from the recent floods. No, I'm talking about able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 with no dependents who have been unemployed for years.

I have the utmost compassion for those families who truly need assistance, and I do believe society should offer a basic safety net to help them transition into better jobs and careers. But I have absolutely no tolerance for individuals who abuse the system by stealing hard-earned taxpayer dollars, who steal resources from the truly needy, and who should be working in the first place. Instead, we need justice for that kind of abuse, and I think Louisiana citizens want that as well. Two bills currently before the Legislature move us closer to that kind of accountability, and I hope the Governor will support them.

House Bill 594 by state Rep. Jay Morris would require legislative authorization to eliminate the federal food stamp work requirements for able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 without dependents. This authorization is important because, as citizens may remember, the Governor requested a waiver for food stamp work requirements upon being elected without any input from the Legislature. This bill ensures that the Legislature will have a say in the matter.

Next, House Bill 987 by state Rep. Mike Johnson allows individuals who are fraudulently using food stamps to be prosecuted and requires them to pay back the assistance they received. The reports of abuse in North Louisiana after the storms, in which individuals not affected by the floods were obtaining food stamps, are downright disgraceful. Those are dollars that should have gone to actual flood victims and their families. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services required no proof of damage because it said it would take too much time to process. Instead, all DCFS asked for was a form of identification. This bill would ensure that the whistleblowers reporting the fraud are protected and that violators pay back the taxpayer dollars they stole.


These bills offer common sense requirements that most citizens probably assume are already being enforced. Unfortunately, common sense and state government don't always go hand-in-hand. Food stamps should not be a way of life when you are able-bodied, have no dependents, and can go find a job and work the minimum of 20 hours a week to receive assistance. Food stamps are supposed to be a helping hand so that you don't starve while you're crossing the bridge between poverty and self-sufficiency. The American dream isn't a life spent on food stamps; it's a life spent in pursuit of prosperity.



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