NC Budget and Tax Center

U.S. House leadership may force another vote on harmful Farm Bill

This week, it is highly likely that the US House will take a second look at their harmful version of the Farm Bill. The bill originally failed to pass the House because of its many harmful provisions that would have taken SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps) away from North Carolinians struggling with food insecurity.

Last year, North Carolina was the 10th hungriest state in the nation, with more than 600,000 households struggling to place food on the table each night. SNAP is a critical tool in helping to address that need. In the same year, more than 1.3 million North Carolinians participated in SNAP.

While the US House proposal will hurt our state, the US Senate version will do the opposite. Not only does the Senate bill fully fund SNAP, it invests in Employment and Training programs that help SNAP recipients find meaningful work.

Take a look below to see how else the House and Senate versions differ:

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

Senate Farm Bill commits to supporting hungry North Carolinians

Late last week, the U.S. Senate Agricultural Committee released their version of the 2018 Farm BillMuch unlike the House version, this bill was created through a truly bipartisan process and contains provisions to help, not harm, those in need of food assistance. Not only does this bill protect the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as Food Stamps, it includes provisions that work to make the program even more efficient and fund efforts to help jobless workers find gainful employment.

Here’s just how different the two bills are:

House Bill

Senate Bill

  • A bipartisan bill that includes compromises from both sides of the aisle
  • Funds evidence-based research on supporting SNAP participants in gaining meaningful employment
  • Encourages new public-private partnerships to support job training
  • Eases administrative barriers for seniors and people with disabilities
  • Supports administrative costs of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

While the Senate bill is worthy to be celebrated, it isn’t safe from harmful changes. The bill will likely be marked up in the Senate Agricultural Committee this week and will quickly move to the Senate floor, where it could be voted on as early as next week. Between now and then, the bill could be subject to changes and amendments that undo many of the bipartisan provisions that help North Carolinians struggling with hunger.

It is also critical to note that while the House version of the Farm Bill was defeated last month because of its potential harmful impacts, it is possible that the same bill will be brought back to the House floor due to a procedural move by House leadership.

North Carolinians have made it very clear to their Congressional delegation that we deserve a Farm Bill that supports, not punishes, North Carolinians struggling with hunger. Let’s hope that our lawmakers do the right thing and pass a Farm Bill that protects and strengthens SNAP.

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

Lawmakers’ budget prioritizes tax cuts over early childhood education

Last night, the North Carolina General Assembly released their budget determining how the state would be funded for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The $23.9 billion budget marks the 10th consecutive year that the state has declined as a share of the economy.

While North Carolina has gotten used to austerity budgets that prioritize tax cuts over critical investments, the process being used this year limits debate and prohibits changes even when significant errors are being made that will hurt communities.

One such error is the decision not to use federal funds to reach more children in North Carolina to with high quality early education.

In February, Congress, in a bipartisan effort, approved an expansion to the Child Care Development Fund Block Grant. As a result, North Carolina received $79 million in order to expand and invest in early childhood education. The new funding would have allowed lawmakers to provide more slots for eligible children to receive a high quality early education that would prepare them for success in school.  It could have also gone a long way to addressing the woefully underpaid early educators in communities across the state to achieve the legislature’s commitment to a $15 living wage.

Instead, legislative leaders have raided these federal funds and taken away already committed federal dollars for early childhood programs.

Here is an overview of what happened:  Last year, state legislative leaders expanded access to pre-K with state appropriations and funded more child care subsidy slots with the diversion of additional TANF federal funds to child care.  They got a lot of credit for committing to a state priority even though they still were relaying significantly on federal dollars to do so.

This conference budget, after both recurring and non-recurring funds have been made available from the federal government, removes $50 million in state funding to NC Pre-K, replacing it with federal TANF Block Grant dollars and stops the transfer of $50 million to child care subsidies from TANF.  In essence, legislative leaders are backfilling their state commitment with more federal money and failing to fully expand the program to all who could be served by these additional federal dollars.

By manipulating funding streams, lawmakers are able to shirk their responsibility and commitment to building an adequate early childhood education system and continue to prioritize tax cuts.

Not only is it morally reprehensible that lawmakers continue to prioritize tax cuts over the educational needs of children, it’s fiscally irresponsible. Our state’s budgeting process is most sustainable when we can ensure that we will have the state tax dollars to meet service needs today and in the future.  Because of the scheduled tax cuts in January 2019 that will go forward under the legislature’s budget, state revenues will not keep up with the cost of delivering current service levels let alone expansion of services to those who would benefit from affordable, high quality early education.

Federal dollars intended to expand early childhood access should be used to serve more children not allow legislatures to continue to prioritize tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations.

This move by lawmakers misses a once in a lifetime opportunity to build an early childhood education system that will help invest in and build in the future of our state.  It is a missed opportunity in the lifetime of thousands of NC children.

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

The minimum wage doesn’t even come close to what workers need

Today, the Raising Wages NC coalition is at the North Carolina General Assembly urging legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and $15 an hour by 2022. This modest, common sense ask isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes economic sense. It’s good for workers who are able to pay for basic expenses, for businesses when consumers have increased purchasing power, and for the health of our entire economy.

One tool that can help make clear just what workers need provide for their families and make ends meet is the Living Income Standard (LIS). Using nine different measures, the LIS documents just how much workers need to earn in order to provide for their families based on family geography, food and housing costs, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and many more common expenses.

With this level of detail, we are able to understand how the expenses of workers in a high-cost, urban county may differ from the expenses of a worker in a rural, more affordable county. Despite differences in the costs families incur, one thing remains consistent across the state: In no county are low-wage workers able to cover the basic necessities while earning the minimum wage.

From the report:

The first step in closing the divide between what people actually earn and what it takes to meet basic needs is raising the state’s minimum wage standard. $7.25 is simply too little to support a family and the economic activity needed to sustain jobs across the state.

Work not only allows individuals and families to meet most basic needs, it also opens the door to new opportunities and a sense of dignity and purpose, all of which have driven America’s economic growth for generations. Restoring the promise of work in well-paying jobs with benefits is the central challenge confronting North Carolina as the state maps a pathway to greater economic security that reaches more households.

The Living Income Standard should be one measure of our progress on that path. It can assess how successful the state is at creating jobs that – at the very least – don’t generate greater societal costs. And it can support efforts to build understanding and a willingness to engage based on the simple fact that in order for families to make ends meet, their wages must match the costs of basic household goods.

In order to see how much workers need to earn in order to make ends meet in your county, visit our 2018 County Economic Snapshots and 2016 Living Income Standard.

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

If passed, Farm Bill’s negative effects will ripple through NC economy

For the past few weeks, we’ve been writing about the 2018 Farm Bill, what it does to SNAP, and how it will affect hungry North Carolinians. Much of the debate has revolved around strict changes to existing work requirements, as well as unfunded mandates and the elimination of important rules like categorical eligibility.

SNAP isn’t just one of the most important anti-poverty tools, lifting nearly 175,000 people in our state, including 81,000 children, out of poverty each year from 2011-2014 — SNAP’s benefits ripple through the economy and support a holistic food system.

SNAP serves as an economic stimulus

With more than 9,700 retailers in the state participate in SNAP, the program is an important public-private partnership that brought $2.2 billion into the North Carolina economy last year. It works by ensuring that consumers can purchase groceries in local stores and those stores, in turn, can keep workers on the job and pay them and so on. In every part of the state, SNAP is a critical source of income for grocers, big box stores, and other food retailers. By reducing SNAP participation, this Farm Bill could have very real consequences for retailers, particularly in areas where low-income communities are concentrated. Researchers estimate that this Farm Bill could cost retailers across the nation $57.5 billion over the next 10 years.

Harming SNAP will harm anti-hunger charities and food banks

SNAP does not reach everyone in need of help. Food banks and private charities play a large role in closing this gap. In 2016, it was estimated that only 72 percent of food insecure North Carolinians were eligible for SNAP. Food banks and private charities filled in the more than $770 million need. Changes in the 2018 Farm Bill would sharply increase the number of North Carolinians ineligible for food assistance, placing an impossible burden on food banks and charities already struggling to meet rising needs.

SNAP has longterm positive effects on health and the economy

Addressing hunger also increases productivity in the work place and classroom, in turn improving health outcomes. A recent study showed adults who had access to food supports as children are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are 16 percent less likely to be obese. Receiving SNAP also increases the employment rate of adults. Experts found a 70 percent increase in the number of households that are employed within a year of receiving benefits.

The Farm Bill has long recognized that the interests of farmers and producers and consumers can align.

The history of Farm Bill legislation has been a bipartisan effort and alignment of support for those struggling to eat and those who produce our food. The current SNAP proposal will have a damaging effect on North Carolina’s food system just as regions across the state are recognizing the economic potential of maintaining and revitalizing food supply chains and connecting them to low-income communities.  North Carolina has the potential to improve the connections between consumers and its nearly $11 billion industry of food agriculture, benefiting both those who produce food and those in need of it. This Farm Bill, however, will weaken this balance by underfunding consumption of food and burdening the state with costs that will detract from agricultural investments.

As Congress prepares to vote on the 2018 Farm Bill tomorrow, it’s important that our representatives understand the implications that harming SNAP will have on every facet of our state. Not only are we obligated to help those in need, it’s critical for the health of our economy that we do so.

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