NC Budget and Tax Center

Hurricane Florence is exposing North Carolina’s racial and geographic inequalities

Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, leaving entire cities devastated, claiming dozens of lives, and doing what will likely be billions of dollars in damage. But this hurricane has exposed much more than tree roots and the foundations of homes — it has exposed the gross and growing inequality embedded in our state.

For years, eastern North Carolina has been home to some of the state’s most impoverished towns and communities. In 2016, 19 of the 20 poorest counties in the entire state were all located in the east. In addition to poverty, eastern North Carolina is home to some of the state’s hungriest communities. In 2016, more than 300,000 people in the 18 counties declared disaster areas alone did not have enough food to eat each night.

In Robeson County, for example, one of the counties most impacted by flooding both recently with Hurricane Florence and two years ago during Hurricane Matthew, nearly 28 percent of residents and 38 percent of children live below the federal poverty line. In New Hanover County, where Hurricane Florence made landfall, more than 19,500 residents live in six neighborhoods that have poverty rates above 40 percent.

So how can the part of our state that has historically been the agricultural and manufacturing engine of our economy be suffering from both poverty and hunger today? Not by circumstance, but by policy choices, historic and present,… Click To Tweet

As a result of generations of redlining, racial housing covenants, and other forms of housing discrimination, many Black and brown communities in the east are often situated in lower-lying geographies and flood plains, making them especially susceptible to damage from powerful storms. In addition to being vulnerable to environmental disasters, these communities have yet to recover from the last economic downturn a decade ago. While the state is returning to pre-recession economic measures, much of eastern N.C. still lags behind.

Since the 2007 Great Recession, every racial and ethnic group in the state has returned to pre-recession levels of poverty except Latinx and Native communities, which make up a disproportionate number of residents in these affected counties. In fact, more than 38 percent of residents in Robeson are Native families while more than 21 percent of families in Duplin, another county hit hard by the storm, are Latinx. Poverty levels among North Carolinians of color across the state remain well above 20 percent, while the poverty rate for white North Carolinians has dropped to 10 percent.

Rather than enacting policies to strengthen our communities, policy makers have chosen to ignore them. Failing to expand health insurance, refusing to raise the minimum wage, attacking critical support programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP (formally known as food stamps) are all ways our leaders have neglected North Carolinians who need help the most. Instead, policy makers should ensure that recovery efforts and resources are applied in ways that are equitable, mitigate past inequalities, and focus on building communities that have the ability to be resilient. Proactively investing in hazard medication infrastructure, committing to common-sense environmental protection policies such as regulating hog waste and coal ash disposal, and investing in public education, jobs training, and wage increases for low-wage workers are critical next steps.

The linkage between race, poverty, and policy choices is clear. Our leaders have elected to neglect disenfranchised and oppressed communities. They now have the opportunity to do the right thing and commit to building a strong, and inclusive North Carolina.

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

NC Budget and Tax Center

US Senate Farm Bill threatened with harmful amendments

Last week, the US House narrowly passed 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.  On this second attempt, the bill passed by only a few votes with Democrats and moderate Republicans voting against it.

This week, the US Senate is preparing to take a vote on their version. 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.

Although much better, the Senate version is not free and clear of potentially harmful provisions.

Several potential amendments are already beginning to emerge from the Senate. One potential amendment would prevent states from waiving work requirements for hungry adults in counties where their are no jobs available. In 2016, the NC General Assemble passed legislation banning the state from applying for this very waiver, taking food assistance away from as many at 100,000 North Carolinian.

Another potential amendment would require SNAP participants to provide identification when purchasing food. This change would place heavy burdens on retailers and SNAP participants as well as adding inefficiency to an otherwise extremely efficient program. With this provision, teenagers would not be able to shop for their families, relatives and neighbors would not be able to shop for home-bound elderly and disabled family members, and those who don’t have a government issue ID would be barred from using their own benefits.

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.

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

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.