NC Budget and Tax Center

U.S. House farm bill spells disaster for millions of North Carolinians

Last week, the House Agricultural Committee released its version of the 2018 farm bill. Chairman Conaway’s proposal would increase hunger and further burden struggling North Carolinians by cutting, and in many cases taking away, food assistance. Its effects will ripple through communities, businesses, and farms across generations.

Rather than helping those in need by providing job training opportunities or ensuring workers earn a living wage, this proposal seeks to take away their food. The effects of these harsh changes will be felt by everyone, including parents raising children, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers, and those unable to find jobs.

  • Given that North Carolina is the 10th hungriest state in the nation, this bill would be particularly devastating for our residents. In 2016, SNAP reached more than 1.5 million North Carolinians, targeting the most vulnerable folks to help ensure older adults, veterans, and children get enough to eat each day. SNAP benefits also help stimulate the state’s economy. More than 9,700 grocers and retailers participate in the program, which pumped $2.2 billion into the economy last year. On average, from 2011 to 2014, SNAP benefits lifted 175,000 North Carolinians – including 81,000 children – out of poverty. Click here to learn more about who’s hungry in your legislative district.
  • This bill strips flexibility from the state and creates barriers to the efficient delivery of services. By restricting categorical eligibility and imposing an untested child support cooperation mandate, this proposal prevents North Carolina from administering SNAP in a way that is most efficient and follows the evidence. Categorical eligibility (CAT EL) is critical in providing food assistance to low-income families with children. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services find that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from 133,000 North Carolinians, including more than 51,000 children.
  • Countless individuals would be at risk of losing food assistance through no fault of their own. There are more jobless workers than there are job opportunities in 87 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The notion that harsh work requirements would “motivate” jobless workers to find work ignores this fundamental reality. Although North Carolina banned work-requirement waivers for economically depressed counties in 2016, these work requirement provisions would double down on people already struggling to find work and preclude the state from undoing a harmful state law that ignores economic realities. Significantly, it would extend the reach of work requirements to affect parents of children over the age of six and older adults.
  • Funding for new work programs is inadequate and fails to recognize what is needed to get people back to work. Under this proposal, North Carolina will be required to provide employment assistance to every eligible SNAP recipient. While not a bad idea on its own, the proposal only allocates $1 billion for an estimated 3 million participants throughout the nation, amounting to $30 per month per participant.This unfunded mandate at the federal level will be pushed down to North Carolina legislators and leaders to address with resources that have artificially been constrained by tax cuts. Currently, only nine of 100 counties in the state operate SNAP Employment and Training programs. In order to offer meaningful employment and work support, North Carolina would have to invest in a workforce development system that reaches rural communities and provides short-credentials, apprenticeships, subsidized work or on-the-job training. In addition, given the evidence around wrap-around services contribution to supporting employment outcomes, North Carolina would need to make additional commitments to transportation, child care, and affordable housing, among other programs.
NC Budget and Tax Center

Reckless tax cuts stop NC from funding regional support for DSS offices

Do you remember Rylan’s LawThe Family/Child Protection & Accountability Act? Last year, state legislators sought to change how the state administers and delivers social services programs, including child welfare services, food assistance, Medicare, Medicaid, and others.  The effort began with a focus primarily on the child welfare system after federal oversight identified many challenges as caseloads climbed and funding fell short.

The Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group has been working to put together a detailed plan on how the regionalization of DSS offices should be implemented, including maps and staffing structures. The proposal focuses on providing regional support—training, coordination– to DSS offices and maintaining the physical presence of offices in communities.

On Tuesday last week, the working group presented the first of two final reports to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.

Although support for the proposed plan was strong, there was a common point of contention: there was no plan for how any of the changes would be paid for. Instead, the co-chair said the group would have to take a “wait and see” approach regarding whether they would consider costs as a part of the plan.

Since 2013, the state has lost billions of dollars in revenue due to tax cuts that primarily benefited high-income North Carolinians and corporations.  Those tax cuts will continue next year when additional tax cuts for corporations and individuals will lose $900 million over the next fiscal year.

Prioritizing children’s well-being and families’ economic security means funding those priorities not more tax cuts.

Our state’s reckless commitment to tax cuts has very real consequences when it comes to making the critical investments we all know we need. It means that even when policy makers are able to agree on what we should be doing, we are unable to do so.

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Washington signaling toward harsh work requirements for hungry NCians

Earlier today, the USDA signaled toward potential changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps), that would impose even more strict work requirements for non-disabled adults without children.

Demanding harsh work requirements of those in dire need is not a new idea. During “Welfare Reform” in 1996, Congress created work requirements for mothers receiving cash assistance. But rather than helping families to find work, these requirements simply punished people who were already struggling.

Today, there are 87 counties in North Carolina where there are more jobless workers than there are job opportunities. Click To TweetPolicy makers have done little to promote job growth, especially in rural North Carolina communities, and they have failed to raise the wages of workers who earn poverty-level wages. As of 2015, 1 out of every 3 workers in NC earns too little to keep a family of four above the poverty line, even when working full-time. The reality is that far too many North Carolinians still have not recovered from the recession.

Earlier this month, the President proposed cutting SNAP by $213 billion over the next 10 years, as well as replacing a portion of SNAP benefits with a government-issued food box.

These proposed changes are not intended to help those who are struggling to place food on the table. Instead, they harm people who just need a helping hand.

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Evil or just bad policy? Trump’s budget leaves hungry North Carolinians to fend for themselves

On Monday, the President released his 2019 budget, which included devastating cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as food stamps). The plan aims to cut one of the nation’s most important safety net programs by nearly 30 percent, or $213 billion over 10 years.

Although the cuts would have devastating effects nation-wide, the brunt of the cuts would be felt in states like North Carolina, which is the 10th hungriest in the nation and is where 1 in 6 residents receive SNAP.

In order to reduce the SNAP caseload, the Trump administration proposes programmatic changes that would limit who could qualify for SNAP and what benefits they could receive. Right now, adults under 49 years of age without children are subject to a three-month time limit. This proposal would expand that limit to adults without children up to age 62. The plan would also get rid of categorical eligibility, a program which helps many low-income North Carolinians, especially those with children and high child care costs. Additionally, the proposal would punish families with more than six household members by capping benefits and would eliminate funding for SNAP-Ed, a program which helps educate on healthy eating choices.

One of the most absurd proposals in the budget is a major provision which would replace SNAP benefits with a Soviet Union-era government-issued food box. Rather than automatically receiving benefits via an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, families that receive $90 or more in benefits a month (about 80 percent of participants nationally) would receive a “USDA Foods package” which would include “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned fruit and vegetables.” The plan would also rely on states to figure out how to package and deliver these boxes.

There is more than one flaw with this concept. Read more

Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

Does the state superintendent even know any teachers?

On Thursday last week Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent, commented that $35,000 is “good money” for young teachers.

According to the Living Income Standard, a measure that calculates the minimum amount a family needs to make ends meet, an adult with one child needs just over $35,710 a year to scrape by. That means no vacation, no extracurriculars, no eating out — only the basics. Add the potential responsibilities of an aging parent or a broken down car and it’s quite possible that many teachers may not be able to make ends meet on their teaching salaries alone.

Another major oversight on Johnson’s behalf?

The more than $3.1 trillion in crippling students debt today’s graduates bear. From 2004 to 2014, the average debt held by college graduates in North Carolina rose from $16,863 to more than $25,000. While college tuition and student debt rose, the North Carolina General Assembly ended the popular NC Teaching Fellows Program in 2011, which incentivized good teachers to remain in NC by forgiving student loans for those who committed to teach in the state. Although the state will bring back the program in the next school year, the program will only be available at five schools, none of which are Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU), an issue which has been highlighted by those concerned with the diversity of North Carolina’s teaching pool.

While Johnson’s comments about “good money” were likely accurate for whom he envisioned as a “young” recent college graduate, it is far from reality for many.

This former teacher and husband of an educator knows just how hard teachers in North Carolina work. Going in early, staying late, talking students through homework help over the weekend, attending schools events in the evening, and paying for school supplies out of their own pocket is all something they commit to but are not paid for.

North Carolinian teachers — who work hard and are care takers, who have debt — deserve jobs that pay a real, living wage and a state superintendent who understands what that means.