2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Senate’s bill to strip food assistance is based on faulty reasoning and misinformation

A provision in the Senate bill, passed last week, will eliminate food assistance for 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, over 51,000 of whom are children. Specifically, the bill would prevent North Carolina from using a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility. Categorical eligibility allows low-income families with high expenses for things such as child care to qualify for food assistance.

In a recent multiple news articles, Sen. Ralph Hise, sponsor of the original bill, explained the Senate’s rational for including the provision. Hise argued that eliminating categorical eligibility will make SNAP (food stamps) more fair. But what is fair about stripping food assistance from low-income families which children in daycare or a family that faces expenses related to caring for a disabled family member? There is nothing “fair” about that.

Hise continues by also incorrectly arguing that the number of North Carolinians participating in SNAP has seen “tremendous growth” despite the recovery. This could not be further from the truth. Since peaking at 18.4% in August 2011, North Carolina’s SNAP participation rates have dropped to 13.9% today and are at their lowest levels since 2010. Today, fewer North Carolinians are on SNAP than have been since the beginning of The Great Recession, despite a growing North Carolina population.

The reality is that while unemployment has dropped, wages have not kept up with the rising costs of expenses such as child care and rent. Low-income families have fewer resources today to spend on food than ever. Hise concludes his explanation, arguing that the numbers provided to the Senate of people who would lose food assistance was lower than the most recent numbers provided by Department of Health and Human Services.

Regardless of whether or not Sen. Hise believed the number was small or large, the question still remains: When is it ever acceptable to take food away from struggling North Carolinians? Click To Tweet

The answer, obviously, is never.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

NC Senate budget strips food assistance from children and families

As we wrote about last week, the Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL).

A special data request to the Department of Health and Human Services finds that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from more than 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, 51,345 of whom are children who could also lose free or reduced cost school lunch.

Thirty-six percent of the households that will lose food assistance have children, 28 percent support elders, and 23 percent are households with people who have disabilities.

What is most egregious about this provision is that SNAP is completely federally funded. The elimination of CAT El would result in ZERO cost savings to the state.

Not only will this bill result in zero savings, it is very likely that it will increase state administrative costs and hurt local economies. Eliminating broad-based CAT EL makes FNS rules more complicated and burdensome on the Division of Social Services. Rules will have to be changed, NC FAST (the state’s new benefits delivery system) and applications will have to be modified, and staff will have to be retrained. By reducing efficiency and increasing workload, this would likely increase administrative costs—the only state costs associated with FNS benefits—and potentially raise FNS error rates.

The immediate impact of reducing access to food assistance will ripple through local economies as well when families do not have the very modest resources (the average impacted household receives only $68.74 a month) to purchase groceries in their community.  In the long-term, a lack of access to food will impact the health outcomes of families, and, for children, it has been linked to lower educational attainment and lifetime earnings.

There is absolutely no fiscal rational to stripping critical food assistance from tens of thousands of North Carolinians in need. Rather than looking out for the best interest of North Carolinians, state policy makers are choosing to play politics.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

The Senate budget poses a very real threat to helping people in need

The North Carolina Senate budget passed early this morning has been analyzed for its investments and how far short they fall of the needs in communities.  What has been missed, however, are the changes that would be made under the Senate budget that would put families in our state one catastrophe away from accessing health care or food assistance.

Here are two examples of how the Senate budget violates our commitment to ensuring that every household has the resources and support to get a job, feed their family and live a healthy life.

1. The Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a streamlined application process.  At least 22,000 low-income working North Carolinians would lose access to food assistance that helps stabilize their household and ensure the nutritional health of their children.  These are people who work hard for low wages that don’t cover their family expenses, especially child care and rent. Children in low-income families whose eligibility for free school meals is tied to their receipt of FNS through CAT EL would lose access to breakfast and lunch at school when their families lose FNS.

This isn’t just a costly provision for families and the stability of local economies.  It is a costly provision for the state. Broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL) works to reduce state administrative costs and workload for the Division of Social Services. Eliminating broad-based CAT EL would make FNS rules more complicated and administratively burdensome, requiring the state to alter its FNS eligibility rules, modify NC FAST (the state’s new benefits delivery system) and applications, and retrain staff. By reducing efficiency and increasing workload, this would likely increase administrative costs—the only state costs associated with FNS benefits—and potentially raise FNS error rates.

2. The Senate budget makes burdensome and unnecessary administrative changes to Medicaid which threatens access to health care for North Carolinians who need help the most. The Senate budget would put in place an exhaustive, quarterly review of those receiving Medicaid with no requirement to improve the connections that recipients can make to jobs, housing or skills training.  Instead, the process would again increase administrative costs, require extensive reworking of case management systems and produce many false or out-of-date results that could force people out of Medicaid for the wrong reason and require more work from state workers to reinstate participants. Depending on implementation, this may be in violation of federal rules for Medicaid.

The Senate budget missed an opportunity to pursue the kinds of reforms to the delivery of services to those struggling with poverty and low-incomes.  Instead, they propose creating additional bureaucracies that will increase the cost and fail to deliver a sustainable pathway out of poverty for the millions of North Carolinians and their children who need help to make ends meet, protect their health and put food on the table.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

The word is in: It is up to NC policymakers to lead on Hurricane Matthew recovery

When Hurricane Matthews hit North Carolina on October 8, severe flooding impacted more than 800,000 homes, more than 300,000 businesses, displaced 3,744 residents, closed 635 roads, and 34 school systems causing an estimated $2.8 billion in damage and another $2 billion in lost economic activity. The North Carolina General Assembly responded by allocating $200.9 million in what would be the first investment towards recovery. The Federal government kicked in an additional $332 million. Since then, no additional funding has gone to help Eastern North Carolina rebuild.

Rather than choosing to dedicate funding to help Eastern NC recover, policymakers have taken a “wait and see” approach, waiting to see how much additional federal funding the state will receive before allocating state dollars. In April, Gov. Cooper and the NC Congressional Delegation requested $929.4 million in Federal help.

We waited for nearly six months after the storm to see where help would come from. Yesterday, we saw. The Trump administration authorized just $6.1 million.

Hurricane Matthew was not North Carolina’s first time dealing with major post-hurricane flooding. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd caused what is now considered to be lower levels of flooding and damage throughout the East. Governor Hunt and the General Assembly reacted by allocating $830 million state dollars to ensure a swift and speedy recovery. At that time more than one-third of the entire effort, $286 million, was pulled from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Yesterday’s Senate bill allocates just $70 million dollars to fund unspecified activities in the rebuilding effort, an additional $80 million was intended to be a state match for federal dollars that are not coming.  Both figures combined still fall woefully short of the $2.8 billion worth of damages.

While our leaders must do everything to urge a greater federal response to our state,  they must also prepare our own response for if the federal government truly abandons us in our time of need.

The North Carolina Senate can lead the effort by drawing from the more than $1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day fund and stopping any further tax cuts proposed that reduce available revenue by at least $800 million when fully implemented.

After six months, far too many families and workers are still displaced from their homes and jobs. Far too many communities are still not rebuilt despite the approaching Hurricane season.  After nearly an entire school year, many children are still yet to return to their home schools and many more have lost learning time and experienced a trauma.

Life, for many, in the east, has not yet returned back to normal and without any type of recovery support, it’s hard to believe that it ever will.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Three ways Trump’s “America First” budget puts hungry Americans last

When it comes to hunger, North Carolina stands out. Each night, almost 630,000 North Carolina households do not have enough to eat. With 15.9 percent of households being food insecure, North Carolina has the highest rate of hunger on the East Coast, and the 8th highest in the nation. Even amongst North Carolinians, hunger does not impact everyone equally. We know that children, households led by women, and seniors are far more likely to face issues of hunger.

While our state still has a long way to go in eliminating food insecurity, we have made strides in recent years. From 2013 to 2015, the state’s food insecurity rate dropped from 17.3 to 15.9 percent, largely in part to critical federal programs that help put food on the table for North Carolina’s most vulnerable. But with Trump’s proposed budget, these very programs are at risk for cuts and even elimination.

Here are three ways Trump’s budget threatens to increase hunger in North Carolina:

1. Cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

Trump’s budget cuts the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, by $200 million per year (from $6.4 billion to $6.2 billion). WIC provides healthy foods, formula and baby food, and health care support for pregnant and breastfeeding women, their infants, and children under the age of five. While this cut won’t kick off current participants, it will inhibit WIC’s ability to provide additional programming and services and could prevent WIC from serving new mothers and children in the future.

Last year, WIC served over 240,000 North Carolinian women and children each month and provided more than $123 million worth of food. In North Carolina, WIC has contributed to a drop in newborn Medicaid costs, increasing the likelihood of children receiving regular and preventative health services; lowered infant mortality rates; and is responsible for improved education performance for children.

2. Elimination of the Community Services Block Grant

The proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a $718 million program, which supports local organizations working to alleviate poverty, hunger, and joblessness across the nation. In North Carolina, CSBG funds 35 Community Action Agencies that service 97 of NCs 100 counties, funneling nearly $21.5 million into high need rural, urban, and suburban communities. While CSBG funding supports a wide array of activities, one critical service is its role in providing emergency food assistance. These funds are used to organize and operate food banks, support North Carolina’s Meals on Wheels program, fund nutrition and food preparation counseling services, and even support community and urban gardens.

Nearly 40 percent of the 120,000 North Carolinians who are supported through CSBG funds are children, 20 percent are seniors, and more than 10 percent are individuals with disabilities.

3. Elimination of 21st Century Community Learning Centers

The budget seeks to eliminate 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), a $1.2 billion program that provides before-, after-, weekend-, and summer school academic enrichment. In North Carolina, this would mean a loss of $22.3 million to 68 school districts, local governments, and non-profits that currently operate these academic enrichment programs. Although increasing nutrition and access to food for children is not an explicit goal, these learning centers play a critical role in eliminating the food gap many children in North Carolina face. Last year, nearly 750,000 children in North Carolina received free or reduced-priced meals. Before and after school and during the summer, many of these children and their families are at risk of being food insecure. Meals provided at after school and summer enrichment programs are an extremely important and efficient tool at addressing childhood hunger.

The Trump Administration argues that 21st CCLC “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objective, such as improving student achievement.”. That’s not true. A 2014 evaluation of North Carolina’s 21st CCLC program proved that students who participated in the program saw larger and faster improvements on standardize testing scores than students who did not participate.

If we really want to make America great, we have to ensure that no American goes to bed hungry. Investing in these important and proven programs is critical for the health of our children, our economy, and our nation.