2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers take positive step in Hurricane Matthew recovery

Today, the NC General Assembly passed The Disaster Recovery Act of 2017 (SB 338). The bill allocates $100 million to help Eastern North Carolina recover and rebuild from the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew. Causing massive flooding and damage in 50 counties in the Eastern part of the state, the storm displaced thousands of families and impacted hundreds of thousands of homes and business. Ultimately, there was an estimated $2.8 billion in damages and another $2 billion cost in lost economic activity.

This is the second round of disaster recovery funding the state has pursued. In a December special session, the General Assembly passed the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016, allocating $200.9 million. Since then, Governor Cooper, as well as North Carolina’s Congressional delegation, worked hard to secure a federal commitment to fulfill the state’s unmet need. In May, the Trump Administration announced that they would only allocate $6.1 million of the $930 million North Carolina had requested.

The Disaster Recovery Act of 2017 is a key step in attempting to close the gap left wide open by the federal government. In this round of funding, $20 million will be allocated to addressing housing needs, including the repair of homes for low-income homeowners and renters. Another $20 million will go to the Department of Agriculture for dam, soil, and water systems repairs, and $30 million will go to infrastructure projects managed by local governments and non-profits. $2.7 million will help the Community College System deal with enrollment declines resulting from the storm, and, finally, $22.3 million will be allocated as a match for federal disaster grants.

Although this round of funding is not enough to address the unmet need or the total costs of damages incurred in Eastern North Carolina, it is an important step. If we are to help Eastern NC not only recover, but to become resilient, state lawmakers will have to continue to make these types of investments in the years to come.

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

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s leaders are abandoning the victims of Hurricane Matthew

Alamance Community Park, in Robeson County, near Lumberton, NC, remained inundated with flood waters on Oct. 16, 2016. Floodwater from Hurricane Matthew came to the bottom edge of the park signs when the storm first hit. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Alamac Community Park, in Robeson County, near Lumberton, NC, remained inundated with flood waters on Oct. 16, 2016. Floodwater from Hurricane Matthew came to the bottom edge of the park signs when the storm first hit. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

If you have been following North Carolina’s response to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, then you know it has been a slow and, at times, disappointing process.

If not, here’s a refresher:

On Oct. 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on North Carolina. The resulting flooding impacted 50 counties in the Eastern part of the state, damaging more than 800,000 homes and over 300,000 businesses, displacing 3,744 residents, and causing closures in 34 school systems. In all, the storm caused $2.8 billion in damages and another $2 billion in lost economic activity.

In December 2016, three months after disaster struck, the General Assembly passed the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 allocating $200.9 million in state dollars for initial relief efforts. The general understanding was that the state would wait for disaster funding from the federal government, re-evaluate the “unmet need,” and step in to fill any remaining gaps. Assuming the federal government would act as they have done in previous disasters and support the state with a significant relief package, Governor Cooper’s budget allocated only $115 million in state funding disaster relief.

On May 10, 2017, nearly six months later, North Carolina finally heard back from the federal government. The Trump administration announced they would provide only $6.1 million of the nearly $930 million in federal funds that the state needed and requested.

The message was crystal clear: North Carolina would have to take care of itself. Yet, despite being fully aware of the $930 million in unmet need in Eastern North Carolina, legislators in both the Senate and House responded by allocating only $150 million in each chamber’s budget.

Now that you’re caught up, you’re probably wondering, “Who will pick up the slack and fund relief in Eastern NC?”

The answer? Not your legislators. Read more

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget

If we care about our children, why do we lunch shame?

Have you ever watched an 11-year-old, short a dollar, pleading with the cafeteria worker to “please let me pay you back” in order to avoid the embarrassment of handing back over his hot meal?

I have. And it’s heartbreaking.

This school year, a Buncombe County elementary school made headlines when a student was threatened with being excluded from the school’s field day as punishment for unpaid lunch debt. While this particular incident gained national attention, “lunch shaming” – the practice of punishing or embarrassing students who do not have enough money for lunch – is prevalent in schools across the state and nation.

In far too many schools, it is common practice to shame children for failing to come up with the $2 or so that a hot meal at lunch costs. In many cases, their meals are thrown away and children are forced to eat an alternative (often a cold sandwich). In some of the more extreme cases, students are forced to work off their debts. Using shame by distinguishing them from their peers who are able to pay is not acceptable. And in many situations, children avoid the embarrassment altogether by skipping meals.

This year, the NC Senate’s budget proposed eliminating categorical eligibility in SNAP (formally known as food stamps), which threatened free and reduced lunches for up to 51,000 children. State legislators have not only failed to address the issue of childhood hunger, they have actively taken steps to make it worse.

Our leaders are also missing the larger picture, to the detriment of our communities and children. If we, as a state, value the health and well-being of our children, we should be focusing on how to ensure that no child, anywhere, is ever hungry.

Thankfully, there are policies that can help us to achieve this goal. One way is to make sure that food and nutrition services in schools are not based on receipts alone but are funded fully. House Bill 891 sought to make school breakfast and lunch available, free of cost, to any child who wanted it. Other states such as New Mexico have passed legislation to prevent lunch shaming and to prioritize feeding children.

At the federal level a policy that allows for universal provision of breakfast called community eligibility is available to North Carolina school districts.  More than 700 schools in North Carolina participated and even more are eligible for the program.

It’s time that we take the fight against childhood hunger seriously.

In North Carolina, 1 in 6 households with children are food insecure, making school lunches a critical source of nutrition for many students. Denying children of a nutritious meal, for whatever reason, is not in line with our state’s values.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

House budget falls short for North Carolina’s most vulnerable

The Social Services portion of the budget is an opportunity for legislators to direct their attention to North Carolinians who need support to make ends meet. These are often children, families, and workers who, despite their hard work and due to no fault of their own, still need a helping hand. The proposed House budget fails to fulfill the promise the state has to help meet the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable individuals. Rather than bold and innovative investments, the budget merely strings along our meager system of social supports.

Here are several key highlights:

  1. The NC Pre-K waitlist is eliminated. The House matches the investment in the Governor’s recommended budget which seeks to eliminate the NC Pre-K waitlist. By providing $36 million over two years, the budget will create an additional 4,700 spots for children from low-income households to access high quality early education. NC Pre-K is proven to increase the educational outcomes of children and is a critical tool in eliminating inter-generational poverty. While an important step, this investment does not address the total number of children from low-income families who are eligible for Pre-K, but not represented on the waiting list. Moreover, the dollars used to pay for these slots are federal TANF dollars which have identified for significant reductions in President Trump’s budget. A real sustainable investment in our children would ensure that high quality Pre-K is accessible to every child in North Carolina and not subject to federal uncertainty.
  2. The budget preserves Categorical Eligibility. The House takes an important stance on food insecurity by choosing to keep categorical eligibility, a critical program which the Senate budget sought to eliminate. Maintaining this program, which costs the state nothing, will provide food assistance to 133,000 North Carolinians, 51,000 of whom are children. In addition to providing critical food assistance, keeping categorical eligibility will ensure that NC Food Nutrition Administrative costs stay down.
  3. The House invests in the foster care system but not in strengthening families. The House budgets invest $2.7 million in order to support the growing caseload of children in foster care, $3 million in foster care placement, and another $1.5 million for youth ages 17-21 that are transitioning out of foster care. Additionally, $18.2 million is allocated to implementing the Child Welfare Improvement Plan, which provides professional development for child welfare professionals, expands in- and out-of-the-home services, and provides post-placement support services. These investments help to ensure that children in the foster care system receive the support that they need. This investment, however, doesn’t take a full view of the challenges. The House fails to make investments that are critical to helping to keep families together in the first place. Investments in child abuse prevention, poverty reduction, and programs that give parents the tools they need remain underfunded.
  4. The budget subjects important state programs to federal uncertainty. The House budget eliminates state funding ($2.7 million) to counties for social services by using federal Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funding, which is slated for elimination under President Trump’s budget. The SSBG funds programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Child Advocacy Centers, the Child Medical Evaluation Program, Mental Health Service, guardianship for elder adults, and a host of other services. President Trump’s proposed budget eliminates many key sources of federal funding to the state included the Community Services Block Grant and significantly reduces others such as the TANF Block Grant. Under federal uncertainty, it is more important than ever that North Carolina legislators use state dollars to maintain and improve programs and services that are important to North Carolinians.

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

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, Uncategorized

Will lawmakers continue to turn a blind eye to Hurricane Matthew recovery?

It has been 236 days since Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina, flooding the eastern part of the state. Almost eight months later, there are still residents living in hotels, children who have not returned to their home schools, and employees and business owners unable to get back to work. The storm caused $2.8 billion in damage and another $2 billion in lost economic and yet the state has only allocated $200.9 million in state funding for disaster relief assistance. The House budget released this week fails to make the critical investments needed to help eastern North Carolina recover from the immediate damage and misses the opportunity to pursue rebuilding a more resilient region. By allocating only $150 million, the House budget, if passed as is, would bring the total state investment to just $350 million, which is woefully short of what is needed.

In light of recent news that the federal government will give less than 1 percent of the $929.4 million dollars requested by Gov. Cooper and the NC Congressional Delegation, it is more important than ever that the General Assembly step up to the plate and lead the effort in rebuilding eastern NC. With $1.4 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund and an $800 million tax cut that will largely benefit wealthy residents and large corporations in the Senate budget, the question is not about the availability of resources. The question, instead, is where the values of lawmakers reflect the values of our state.

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