NC Budget and Tax Center

The reality of North Carolina’s labor market and what it means for health insurance

Last week’s Prosperity Watch highlighted the strong relationship between income and health insurance—that is, the higher one’s income the more likely they are to be insured.  The problem with this relationship, beyond the fact that everyone needs insurance — not just the rich — is that it reflects an underlying challenge in our labor market that complicates access to health care.

Three fundamental challenges with the state’s labor market are holding back North Carolinians from healthy opportunities.

  1. North Carolinians with low incomes are struggling to make ends meet in low wage jobs. According to data from the Working Poor Families Project, 75 percent of North Carolinians with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or incomes less than $51,500 for a family of four) are working.  Moreover, 1 in 9 North Carolinians who worked full-time year-round were uninsured.
  2. North Carolinians with low incomes often have to work intermittently throughout the year or with irregular hours from week to week. Nationally, analysts have found that 1 in 4 Americans who work at least 1,000 hours in a year would be at risk of losing coverage because their work hours fluctuate enough in a given month that they would fall below reporting requirements established by some states to access health care.  These reporting requirement thresholds are arbitrary and inflexible in the face of a job landscape where inconsistent work scheduling and temporary work, for example, are on the rise.
  3. Too many North Carolinians are still struggling to find jobs in many communities that have not recovered from the Great Recession (and even in those that have). The most recent county data found that 45 counties still have fewer jobs than before the Great Recession. This lack of employment opportunity is particularly pronounced in rural areas but also affects urban neighborhoods that are disconnected from their broader regional labor market.

Without exploring the underlying ways in which our current labor market matters for leading healthier lives, it is impossible to design the best policies to make sure that people are connected to the health insurance they need. Even worse, it could lead to consideration of unfixable and flawed policies that suggest reporting on work activities to qualify for health insurance coverage can solve the underlying challenges in the labor market.

Indeed, to promote healthy opportunities for every North Carolinian, our policymakers must not only ensure health insurance coverage is accessible and affordable but address the issues that make work in the current labor market fall short of delivering the security of well-being.  Doing so will lead to not just healthier outcomes but also higher incomes.


Students, lawmakers advocate for HBCUs in day of advocacy

Students from North Carolina’s historically Black colleges and universities came to the General Assembly Wednesday for a day of advocacy.

They were joined by members of the Legislative Black Caucus in pushing for better funding for

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus joined HBCU students at the General Assembly Wednesday for a day of advocacy.

HBCUs, funding for election-related changes that will impact college students (and HBCU students, disproportionately) and to stress the continued value of HBCUs.

“We have more HBCUs in this state than any other state in the union,” said Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth), chair of the caucus, at a Wednesday press conference.

North Carolina has five HBCUs that are part of the UNC system – N.C. A&T University, Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina Central University and Elizabeth City State University. The state is also home to five HBCUs that are independent colleges and universities.

Lowe himself attended Virginia Union University and Bishop College in Texas, both HBCUs.

Surrayyah Chestnut, a sophomore at North Carolina Central University, highlighted HBCUs’ continued struggle for appropriate levels of funding,

“Throughout their history HBCUs have received significantly less funding than their white counterparts,” Chestnut said. “Decades of chronic underfunding have made our institutions more subject to the dangers of accreditation issues and unpredictable housing crises.”

Those stresses lead to students having to worry about their school’s resources and survival in addition to all the usual stresses of college life, Chestnut said.

A high profile recent example is Bennett College in Greensboro, which this month raised more than $8 million in an emergency funding drive as it struggles to maintain its accreditation and chart a path for a sustainable future.

The HBCU Student Action Alliance pointed to a series of numbers to stress the continued importance of HBCUs:

*80 percent of Black judges attended an HBCU.

* 40 percent of Black members of Congress attended an HBC – including North Carolina’s own Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Bennett College alumna.

* HBCUs are responsible for 20 percent of all current bachelor degrees grants to black students in the U.S.

*Across the nation, 134,090 jobs are created by HBCUs in their surrounding communities.

“HBCUs aren’t just the ‘historic’ part of HBCU,” said Princess Bush, a sophomore at Bennett College. “We are also the present – and ever relevant.”


Chemours, DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch hammer out final consent order on GenX, PFAS contamination

Pretty, but polluted with PFAS: The Cape Fear River (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

This is a developing story. Policy Watch has scheduled an interview with NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan later this afternoon. Look for additional coverage tomorrow.

After receiving 380 public comments on a proposed consent order with Chemours, state environmental regulators are asking a Bladen County judge to sign the final version of the document, which would put it into effect.

The consent order lays out several new requirements for Chemours to analyze monitor and report its emissions and discharges of GenX compounds and other per- and polyfluorinated compounds into the air and water, including the Cape Fear River. The document also requires the company to remove 99 percent of the contamination of the surface water and groundwater at an old outfall at the Fayetteville Works site.

Since drinking water has also been contaminated by GenX and PFAS emanating from the plant, Chemours is required to “provide effective systems to treat drinking water fountains and sinks in public buildings,” such as Gray’s Creek Elementary School. It also must “ensure that filtration systems are operating properly and are maintained for at least 20 years,” at the company’s expense.

Chemours has agreed to pay a $12 million penalty, plus $1 million in investigation costs.

Many people living near the Fayetteville Works facility as well as in Wilmington downstream, were unhappy with the draft consent order, including the comparatively small penalty amount for a company that generated $6.6 billion in revenue last year. They also were concerned that DuPont, which was the original polluter before it spun off Chemours, would escape liability. The final consent order clarifies that DuPont can be held liable for past offenses, and that it doesn’t insulate either company from third-party litigation. At least two lawsuits have been filed against the company, including one by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. CPFUA has asked to join fellow intervenor Cape Fear River Watch in the consent order, but so far that request is still pending.

Since November, when DEQ released the draft consent order the evening before Thanksgiving, the agency has incorporated some public feedback — 15 actions, total — into the final version. Now Chemours must notify downstream utilities of an “accelerated plan” to reduce PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River. DEQ says it will consult with the utilities before any plan is approved. (See document below for a full list of the additions.)

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A draft air permit, currently up for public comment through Friday, would also be incorporated into the order. That requires Chemours to reduce GenX emissions by 99 percent and all PFAS by 99.99 percent by Dec. 31, 2019. The company is installing a $100 million thermal oxidizer and scrubber system to achieve those reductions. Over the past two months, Chemours has been scrutinized by the EPA for the company’s role in PFAS contamination. As Policy Watch reported in January, federal officials filed a temporary notice of objection to the company’s import of GenX compounds from its facility in Dordrecht, the Netherlands. And last week, the EPA cited the company with several notices of violation related to the reporting of PFAS discharges, emissions, imports and potential health effects of exposure. The EPA has yet to announce any financial penalty for those violations.

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Editorial: It’s time to push back against anti-vaxxers

In case you missed it, the Charlotte Observer published an on-the-money editorial earlier this week in which it demanded action from state leaders to push back against the growing and dangerous “anti-vaxxer” movement. As you’re probably aware, there’s a growing movement in the U.S. in which ill-informed, if well meaning, parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated against numerous dangerous diseases.

As the Observer editorial notes, this is a trend that needs to be reversed ASAP.

It’s time to get tougher about vaccinations in North Carolina and elsewhere, not only by eliminating the religious exemption loophole, but by taking additional steps to make sure parents don’t game exemption laws and rules.

Currently, North Carolina statute requires vaccinations for measles, mumps and other diseases for children attending day care, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities. Like many states, North Carolina allows exemptions for medical reasons and religious beliefs. The medical exemption needs to be signed by a doctor, but the religious exemption requires only the name and date of birth for whom the request is being made. No explanation of the religious objection — or even evidence of religious affiliation or faith — is required.

That loophole should be eliminated. Most major mainstream religions — including all Christian denominations — have no prohibition on vaccinations, and many advocate for immunization, according to a study in the medical journal, Vaccine. The Amish, long rumored to forbid vaccinations, have no such prohibition, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have softened their stance on immunizations and now allow them.

Objections to vaccinations also are not based on science, which has regularly and thoroughly debunked the notion that vaccines are unsafe.Despite that, anti-vaxxers stubbornly shake their head, fueled by an internet-based patchwork of falsehoods and suppositions. Their recklessness not only endangers children who have legitimate medical exemptions, but adults who have vulnerable immune systems because of chemotherapy and other treatments….

N.C. lawmakers should not only follow the lead of their counterparts in Oregon and Washington state — who are crafting legislation that would eliminate non-medical exemptions — but lawmakers in California, who are contemplating allowing health departments to crack down on doctors who sign off on questionable medical waivers.

Anti-vaxxers argue that the state has no right to tell them how to care for their children. But government has long protected kids from poor parenting, and it has long shielded the greater community from the recklessness of individuals. It’s time to treat vaccination deniers for what they are — a threat to others.


Click here to read the entire editorial.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Top Harris political consultant ‘shocked and disturbed’ to learn of absentee ballot fraud scheme

Andy Yates, a political consultant with Red Dome Group, prepares to testify under oath during the second day of a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities investigation. (Photo by Travis Long/Raleigh News and Observer)

The consultant who paid more than $130,000 to a political operative working for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris said Tuesday he was “shocked and disturbed” to learn about a fraudulent absentee ballot scheme in Bladen and Robeson counties that benefitted the election campaign.

Andy Yates, who runs political consulting firm Red Dome Group, said he never had the first suspicion that McCrae Dowless Jr. was hiring workers to collect absentee ballots from voters in the rural areas, witness them and in some cases fill out the incomplete ones.

“If that had ever become evident to me during the campaign, I would have immediately cut off all contact with Mr. Dowless, he would have never been paid by Red Dome again [and] I would have told Dr. Harris to fire him immediately,” he said. “I care deeply about the integrity of our democracy, and I’m not going to put up with that junk, frankly crap, excuse my language. I’ve worked too hard to build my business to let one person lie to me and do something wrong that they specifically told me that they weren’t doing and ruin me and ruin my business.”

Yates has been the State Board of Elections’ most confident and prepared witness thus far. He’s also one of the only witnesses who hired an attorney, who watched the proceedings diligently from a chair nearby. Yates was on the stand for nearly four hours and is expected to continue testifying this morning.

State Board Chairman Bob Cordle said he expects Harris to testify next and indicated the evidentiary hearing could spill into Thursday before concluding.

The State Board put on witnesses Monday who told the story of how Dowless pulled off an illegal absentee ballot operation. They described unknowingly committing felonies at his direction, forging signatures, completing blank forms and mailing batches of ballots to the local boards of election.

Witnesses focused Tuesday on how early voting results — tabulated incorrectly a week before the actual election —  could have possibly been leaked and whether Harris knew about the alleged fraud.

9th Congressional district candidate Mark Harris, a Republican, speaks to attorneys during a break Tuesday at a hearing about alleged fraud during his campaign. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Harris won the 9th congressional district by 905 votes over Democratic candidate Dan McCready, but the State Board refused to certify the results because of the ongoing investigation into absentee ballot irregularities. The five-member Board will decide this week whether to certify the race or order a new election, and they’re considering more than just the math of how many votes are at issue — they are weighing whether the scope of the fraud tainted the race, casting doubt on the fairness of it.

Yates testified that he would be surprised if Harris knew about Dowless’ illegal operation. But he also said that Dowless’ hiring by the candidate was a “done deal” before Red Dome was brought on to the campaign.

Dowless, who he described as a needy man needing frequent validation and a political junkie with nothing else going on, stayed in constant contact with Yates and Harris, according to testimony. He would update them about his progress and talk to Yates about all aspects of the campaign and frequently about anything numbers related.

From the very beginning, Dowless told Yates his operation was by-the-book, and he never questioned it — but neither did Harris.

“He told me that at no time were his folks to ever touch, handle, put their hands on, collect, mail an absentee ballot,” Yates said. “He knew that was illegal and he made sure all of his folks knew that was illegal.”

Yates paid Dowless a monthly fee of $1,200 during the primary in addition to $4 for each absentee ballot request form he turned in and a monthly fee of $1,625 during the general election cycle in addition to $5 for the absentee request forms. He also reimbursed Dowless for office space and utilities, office supplies and other miscellaneous expenses. He never asked for receipts and never verified how many absentee ballot request forms Dowless told him he turned in.

“His word was good enough for Dr. Harris,” Yates said. “I felt no reason to verify it; Dr. Harris never asked me to verify it. … We had no reason to believe his numbers were off.”

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