News

North Carolina’s food stamps program continues to face major problems in how it operates and monitors federal funds for low-income families struggling to get food on their tables, according to a recent report by federal officials.

NC FAST logoA strongly worded management evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  listed more than 38 faults with North Carolina’s system, ranging from “critical findings” regarding a lack of oversight at the state level to regulatory violations about what is included on applications for food assistance.

“There are critical findings in the Claims/TOP area that are related to a lack of State oversight and monitoring,” read one finding in the 19-page report. (Scroll down to read the report itself.)

The major findings also included a “lack of State oversight in Recipient Integrity” that led to instances of potential fraud not being referred to for prosecution and “serious findings” in the state’s employment and training program.

The Sept. 10 management evaluation rested on visits that officials from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service office made in May and June where operations were observed at the state level, as well as in social services offices in Guilford, Pitt and Wake counties.

It requires DHHS to provide a corrective action plan within the next 60 days.

The report came on the heels of a major breakdwon in North Carolina’s food stamps delivery system last year that left thousands of low-income families without access to food assistance for weeks or months. The problems were attributed to glitches in a new technology system, N.C. FAST (Families Assessing Services through Technology) and issues that county-level workers had in accessing the new system while struggling under heavy caseloads.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the first post of a blog series that will take a detailed look at the 2013 US Census poverty data released today.

Poverty remained high in North Carolina last year, according to new Census Bureau data released today. The new data highlights that many people have not benefitted from the state’s weak economic recovery and that North Carolina must do more to help struggling people afford basics like decent housing, nutritious food, and reliable child care, and transportation.

One in five North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2013, equating less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. The median annual income in North Carolina adjusted for inflation did not rise between 2012 and 2013 and is lower now compared to 2009 when the official economic recovery began. Yet other sources show that incomes at the top have grown and the gaps between the top and bottom and top and middle have widened.

North Carolina lawmakers have yet to rebuild what was lost during the recession. Throughout the economic recovery, they have either made deep cuts to or provided inadequate investments for early childhood development, public schools, the UNC System, and nonprofits promoting job and business development in the state’s economically distressed areas. These are key services that invest in people’s future and build a strong economy that offers all families the opportunity to thrive. Lawmakers have also dismantled services that help people get back on their feet when they are struggling, including unemployment benefits, job training programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit that makes work pay and helps parents avoid raising their children in poverty.

The new Census data shows that progress towards eliminating poverty in the state is stuck: Read More

News

IMG_2341Lt. Governor Dan Forest kicked off a statewide media tour today in Raleigh to promote his “I Support Teachers” license plates — one part of his newly minted North Carolina Education Endowment fund that is aimed at increasing the salaries of the state’s highest performing public school teachers.

“We need to have the best teachers in the world here in North Carolina,” said Forest. “And one of the things that often happens is that we play this game with teachers about how do we fund … teacher compensation for the long term.”

“So every couple years you get the Governor and the legislature to try to find money to help support teacher compensation, generally whatever is leftover in the budget,” continued Forest. “The purpose of the North Carolina Education Endowment fund is to provide a long term solution…to support teacher compensation so we can break the ebbs and flows of the economy.”

Lawmakers passed what they characterize as an average 7 percent raise for teachers during the 2014 legislative session, after several years of no pay raises for teachers. Those raises, however, have in large part gone to newer teachers, with veteran teachers left with little to show for their years-long wait for a pay raise.

Calling it a “lock box fund,” Forest said contributions will sit in the endowment for a period of time in order to grow, then be used to pay the state’s highest performing teachers at a greater rate. The metrics for determining who would qualify as one of the state’s highest performing teachers was not made clear.

There are several ways the NC Education Endowment can be funded, according to Forest:

  • Through the purchase of an “I Support Teachers” specialty license plate;
  • By individual or corporate donations through state income tax forms;
  • Corporations and individuals making stand-alone donations;
  • By appropriations form the general fund by the General Assembly; and
  • Through other methods to be determined in later legislation.

In the law passed this summer that enacted the endowment fund, Forest modified language from the existing law that established a specialty license plate option with the words “I Support Public Schools.” That license plate never ended up being created thanks to a lack of public interest. Forest decided to take that language and cross out “Public Schools” on the license plate and replace it with “I Support Teachers.”

While WRAL reported in May that the state’s most popular specialized license plates, which are the ones that contribute to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, only generate annual revenue amounts of $500,000, Forest told reporters at the time that he hoped the endowment will generate billions of dollars in revenue over the long term.

During the bill’s debate, Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) worried that the endowment funds could ultimately just get thrown in with the big General Appropriations pot, much like what happened to the lottery funding that was originally intended to fund certain areas of education.

Forest will continue to promote his endowment by highlighting the “I Support Teachers” license plates at DMVs in Greensboro and Charlotte today.

Commentary

As Governor Pat McCrory travels the state this week touting a billion dollar bond proposal for highway improvements and transit investments over the next 25 years, the Charlotte Observer reminds readers that the state is facing a serious revenue problem.

The editorial board doesn’t hold back in Thursday’s column entitled: Become Alabama in 12 easy steps.

Here’s an excerpt:

(News item: State revenues in North Carolina decreased by more than $200 million in July and August, the first two months of the fiscal year, when compared with the same months in 2013. That’s also $50 million short of state budget projections, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reports.)

Twelve Easy Steps to Becoming Alabama:alabama-close

1) Slash taxes, as N.C. Republicans did last year when they cut both the corporate tax rate and the personal income tax rate, with the most significant benefits going to wealthy North Carolinians.

2) Tell citizens this is tax “reform,” not simply tax cuts.

3) Explain, too, that this will help “job creators” grow our state’s economy, despite the fact that history shows there is little to no link between tax cuts and economic growth. The reason for this is that businesses add jobs when they believe doing so will help them grow and make more money. They do not need a tax break to want to make more money, and they won’t add jobs until it’s economically advantageous to do so, regardless of tax breaks.

4) Do not explain that last part to voters.

5) Cut spending, as N.C. lawmakers have had to do to offset the hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue. These cuts can be made in a number of ways, such as trimming health and welfare benefits for poor people, or cutting unemployment benefits for those without a job.

6) Subtly blame these poor and unemployed people for needing government “handouts.”

7) Bonus Tip: One especially fertile target for spending is education. Freeze higher education pay and cut education budgets, despite increases in enrollment. Cut the money that’s spent per student in classrooms and raise teacher pay only after it’s politically destructive to ignore it. Then cut critical education needs like teacher assistants to help pay for those salaries, and fund the rest of the permanent pay increase with one-time only sources of state revenue.

8) Hope no one notices that last thing.

9) Wave off signs of trouble, as new state budget director Lee Roberts did this week when asked about the state’s alarming two-month revenue shortfall. Roberts said it was too early to worry, despite the N.C. Budget and Tax Center estimating that revenue will be down $300 million in 2015 and at least a half-billion dollars next year, when new tax cuts go into effect.

Read the full editorial online at The Charlotte Observer.

Commentary

Charlotte light rail.jpgThere are too many details to be fleshed out and examined to provide a definitive assessment of Governor McCrory’s new proposed state transportation plan that he unveiled yesterday.  For instance, the summary talks about expanding mass transit and building new light rail — both encouraging signs — but it’s too early to say whether these ideas are just polite nods in that direction or real signals of an intention to move away from paving the entire state, one new interstate lane at a time.

One thing that can be said for certain at first blush however is this: It’s encouraging to see the Governor talking optimistically about public investments for the common good. After almost nothing but right-wing bluster about slashing public structures (and the spending that supports them) in education, health care, environmental protection and several other important areas, it’s nice to hear the McCrroy administration at least admitting that public institutions and new investments have an important role to play in the state’s future.

Of course, the idea of investing in roads has always been the one area in which most conservatives have made an exception to their rules about the supposed evils of government.  So, it seems quite possible that the new DOT plan could just be a brief interlude in the ongoing assault on all things public. We’ll know more in the days ahead as the plan gets spelled out in more detail, but until then, we’ll try to maintain a little hope that, with the General Assembly out of town and Art Pope out of the budget office, McCrory has, at least temporarily, morphed back into his civic-boosting mayoral persona of old.