The North Carolina Senate budget passed early this morning has been analyzed for its investments and how far short they fall of the needs in communities. What has been missed, however, are the changes that would be made under the Senate budget that would put families in our state one catastrophe away from accessing health care or food assistance.
Here are two examples of how the Senate budget violates our commitment to ensuring that every household has the resources and support to get a job, feed their family and live a healthy life.
1. The Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a streamlined application process. At least 22,000 low-income working North Carolinians would lose access to food assistance that helps stabilize their household and ensure the nutritional health of their children. These are people who work hard for low wages that don’t cover their family expenses, especially child care and rent. Children in low-income families whose eligibility for free school meals is tied to their receipt of FNS through CAT EL would lose access to breakfast and lunch at school when their families lose FNS.
This isn’t just a costly provision for families and the stability of local economies. It is a costly provision for the state. Broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL) works to reduce state administrative costs and workload for the Division of Social Services. Eliminating broad-based CAT EL would make FNS rules more complicated and administratively burdensome, requiring the state to alter its FNS eligibility rules, modify NC FAST (the state’s new benefits delivery system) and applications, and retrain staff. By reducing efficiency and increasing workload, this would likely increase administrative costs—the only state costs associated with FNS benefits—and potentially raise FNS error rates.
2. The Senate budget makes burdensome and unnecessary administrative changes to Medicaid which threatens access to health care for North Carolinians who need help the most. The Senate budget would put in place an exhaustive, quarterly review of those receiving Medicaid with no requirement to improve the connections that recipients can make to jobs, housing or skills training. Instead, the process would again increase administrative costs, require extensive reworking of case management systems and produce many false or out-of-date results that could force people out of Medicaid for the wrong reason and require more work from state workers to reinstate participants. Depending on implementation, this may be in violation of federal rules for Medicaid.
The Senate budget missed an opportunity to pursue the kinds of reforms to the delivery of services to those struggling with poverty and low-incomes. Instead, they propose creating additional bureaucracies that will increase the cost and fail to deliver a sustainable pathway out of poverty for the millions of North Carolinians and their children who need help to make ends meet, protect their health and put food on the table.