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.

NC Budget and Tax Center

One in six North Carolinians struggle with hunger; GOP tax plan threatens to make it worse

Over the last few years, North Carolina has remained one of the hungriest places in the US. With one in six people defined as “food-insecure,” North Carolina is the 10th hungriest state in the nation.

Plans to cut federal taxes in a way that will grow the deficit, like the one to be voted on by the Senate upon return from Thanksgiving break, are likely to put many of the programs that address hunger at risk in the next year.

Homes that are food insecure often have to make sacrifices on the quality or the amount of food they consume, just so everyone can have enough. Many of these families worry that food will run out or are concerned about being able to provide a balanced meal for growing children. In some instances, family member skip meals in order to make food stretch.

Programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps) are critical in helping families put food on the table. In 2016, more than 1.5 million North Carolinians participated in SNAP. Although SNAP has proven to be one of the most effective ways to fight poverty, it is at very real risk.

The tax bill currently being debated by the Senate could have a devastating impact on hungry North Carolinians by adding $1.5 trillion to the national deficit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in order to pay for the tax cuts over the next decade, SNAP spending will be reduced by $140 billion. And while some states may be able to continue to support people through robust safety nets, North Carolina will not.

Over the past few years, state legislators have continued to make decisions that harm people in need of help. In 2015, policymakers in Raleigh passed a bill that kicked up to 100,000 North Carolinians off of SNAP by allowing a harsh and unnecessary three-month time limit to return. In addition to specifically targeting people in need of food assistance, by continuing to pass tax cuts that benefit the wealthy at the state level, policymakers have failed to invest in programs that support a majority of North Carolinians.

In a nation of so much and in a state that has seen growing wealth yet stagnant wages, it’s unconscionable that families would not have enough food to put on the table. The reality is that many struggling North Carolinians are working hard, yet falling short. Last year, nearly half of all SNAP recipients were in working families and almost 70 percent were in families with children. Surely, our elected officials can do better than to punish these struggling families.

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

New data: Despite small gains, far too many people in poverty still left behind

New data today released from the US Census Bureau shows that 1.5 million North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2016. At 15.4 percent, the rate of poverty in N.C. has dropped by 1 percentage point from the previous year, yet still remains higher than pre-recession levels.

Income has followed similar trends to the poverty rate. The state’s medium income last year was $50,584, an increase from 2015, but still $1,130 less than the median income in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. This means that although our economy is recovering from the Great Recession, many NC families have yet to share in the state’s economic gains. Additionally, the data points to divides in our state, revealing that not everyone is impacted by poverty in equal ways. Serious barriers such as lack of access to quality education, housing segregation, and job and wage discrimination means some groups struggle economically more than others. Last year, 23.5 percent of African Americans, 27.3 percent of Latinx families, 25.5 percent of Native Americans, and 11.9 percent of Asian Americans experienced poverty compared to 10.8 percent of whites. Additionally, 21.7 percent of children experienced poverty and women experienced poverty at a rate 2.6 percentage points higher than men.

As grim as this data is, it tells an important story. Although we have seen positive gains in measures such as the unemployment rate, far too many North Carolinians are still being left behind in our state’s economic recovery. If we want to build an economy that works for everyone, lawmakers will have to ensure that we make adequate public investments in things such as income supports and higher education.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Approach to disaster relief funding is in need of drastic change

Last week, Congress passed a bill that included over $15 billion in disaster relief funding dedicated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill, which included another provision that extends the debt-ceiling for three months, is in response to a cry from FEMA officials earlier this week who warned that the agency could run out of funds as soon as this weekend. The legislation, which awaits the president’s signature, includes $7.4 billion dedicated to Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana, another $7.4 billion for community block grants, and $450 million towards Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for damaged businesses.

Although 90 House and 17 Senate Republicans voted against the bill, largely on the grounds of extending the debt ceiling, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed that funding disaster recovery efforts in light of Harvey and ahead of Hurricane Irma is a priority.

This action signals a welcome departure from previous stances Congress has taken toward funding disaster recovery. A recent Slate article details the typical contradiction in lawmakers’ attitudes towards federal disaster relief. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit, then-Rep. Mike Pence expressed his hesitancy in providing disaster relief without spending cuts. In 2012, following Superstorm Sandy, lawmakers in both chambers threatened to withhold relief funding by tying the recovery bill to $17 billion worth of spending cuts.

The way our state and nation are bearing the financial and human costs of natural disasters is drastically changing. In just over the past 30 years, we have seen a significant increase in billion-dollar disasters. In North Carolina, in particular, these events will have disproportionate and catastrophic impacts of many of our poorest and rural communities. And yet without a commitment to investments over the long-term to prepare and plan for these costs, we will be leaving communities aside

After almost a year, Eastern NC is still not whole

Lawmakers have been inconsistent in funding unmet needs for those impacted by natural disasters and have neglected to have serious conversations about ensuring that infrastructure exists to minimize future devastation. This could not be more evident than here in North Carolina where the state was awarded only 1 percent of a $929 million aid request to support recovery and rebuilding efforts for Hurricane Matthew.

It is hopeful that in this emerging bipartisan commitment to helping communities recover, Eastern NC will finally receive some badly needed support. According to the NC Insider, nearly a year after Hurricane Matthew flooded much of the eastern part of the state, almost 3,000 families are still waiting to be bought out of their damaged and flood-prone homes. The state, however, only has enough funding to buy out one-third of the properties. Additionally, only a small number of businesses have received SBA loans and the state lacks funding needed to support low-income homeowners in need of repairs.  The estimated unmet need in the region according to state officials is $450 to $600 million.

We should applaud lawmakers for stepping up and choosing to support communities in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. But if we hope to build a stronger and more resilient North Carolina, we’ll need more than just disaster relief; we’ll need the investments and choices that ensure everyone, regardless of where they live or how much money they make, live in safe and thriving communities.

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