The reviews are coming in as more and more people wade through the details of the House budget proposal. Here’s another sobering take from the executive director of NC Child:
Tiny plates and the House budget
By Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child
One of the most simplistic reheated bits of diet advice ever sold in the grocery checkout line is to eat your regular food, but to use a small plate and a small fork.
You’ll think your plate is full!! If you go back for seconds you won’t overeat so much!
The latest state budget for children’s services seems to have a few similar beliefs baked in–the key one being that before long you’ll believe that the plate in front of you is a regular-sized plate. Even though plates on your right and left are normal, you will not notice the one in front of you is small. Substitute ”appropriation” for “plate” and you get the point.
Set the budget table with tiny plates for many children’s programs and there you have the post-recession and post-2013 tax cut reality. The legislature fundamentally re-set the state’s budget priorities with tax cuts in 2013 and funding has not reached pre-recession levels since, although the state has grown in population and investment needs.
For instance, North Carolina’s premiere early childhood education programs, Smart Start and NC Pre-K, saw their funding reduced by 20% during the recession and have never seen that funding restored. Now, despite a growing population of children, we’re able to provide fewer of them with the strong start they need.
It’s important to understand this foundational fact as we go deeper into the legislative conversation about our future– because that’s what a budget is, a map to our future.
The tiny plates are now on the table. And when it’s children we nurture from these much smaller programs, we are cutting our shared ability to grow a safe, educated, and healthy workforce. It’s that high quality workforce that will help North Carolina compete for jobs and produce innovation in the future. And that higher level of economic energy will help all of us in the future.
That’s why it’s our collective responsibility to ensure the success of all of our children, and often the most important thing that we can do for them is support their families.
On that score, this proposed budget has some pluses that help the family– a change to the child care subsidy law that will allow co-payments to be prorated, and a change that makes it easier for family members like grandparents to be paid caregivers. These sound bureaucratic but they will help hard-working families.
The proposed budget would also give teachers a much needed pay raise, which is critical for building a world-class K-12 education system.
Unfortunately, the budget includes a large discretionary cut for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over one million low-income children in our state. We don’t know how the cut will be implemented, but there’s little fat to trim.
North Carolina knows what to do to help children and families succeed. Under both Republican and Democratic governors the state has taken important steps that got real results. Under Gov. Martin, we raised the Medicaid income level to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level for pregnant women. That act began North Carolina’s significant reduction in infant mortality. In the late 90s, under Gov. Hunt, North Carolina created the NC Health Choice program, which increased the percentage of children with health insurance by 44%, leading to an all-time high in children’s health insurance coverage.
Let’s re-set the table for all children and families in North Carolina.