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Farmworker pre-K(This post is part of a blog series on the crucial role of quality early childhood education and child care in caring for our youngest residents, creating thriving communities, and promoting a healthy economy. Read the introduction to this blog series and learn more about the programs we?ll be discussing here.)

By John Menditto

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced a bold and ambitious plan to expand preschool services. The “Preschool for All” Initiative calls for $75 billion in new funding during the next decade to partner with states and help expand access to low- and middle-income children who are not currently enrolled in preschool programs.

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been tireless in his advocacy for this new, national initiative. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Duncan as part of a small coalition of community-based groups who serve the Latino community and ask him how the Administration would make sure that the Preschool for All Initiative did not exclude by its design the preschool-aged children of migrant farm workers. Secretary Duncan assured the group that “Preschool for All” meant exactly that: there would be no asterisk excepting out farmworker families. He invited those in attendance to provide the Administration with information on how to design preschool services to ensure the children of farmworker families did not lose out on the benefits of a preschool education.  Read More

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Living wageThe fallout from the destructive 2013 session of the North Carolina General Assembly continues to settle out across the state policy landscape.

As you will recall, during the waning days of the session, lawmakers enacted (and Governor McCrory approved) a new restriction on the ability of cities and counties to enter into contracts on their own terms. Last night, in response to the new law, Durham County Commissioners retracted part of the county’s forward-looking living wage ordinance.

The County Commissioners expressed regret about their action, which was in response to HB 74, signed into law by Gov. McCrory on August 23. The so-called “regulatory reform” law, among many other things,  Read More

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There’s been a lot of news lately about the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s apparent disinterest in enforcing state law and punishing wrongdoers. In December, State Auditor Beth Wood released a report showing the DOA failed to issue up to $2.5 million in fines for violations related to handling of propane, collecting instead only $4,100.  

Now the DOA has done it again. Rather than throw the book at Hoke County turkey plant officials responsible for animal cruelty, DOA employee Sarah Jean Mason tipped off the veterinarian at the plant that an inspection was imminent.  After Dr. Mason pled guilty to giving confidential information during a criminal investigation and giving false statements to the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department, the DOA suspended her for two weeks.

It’s time our state agencies started taking enforcement seriously. The NC Department of Labor has a similar history of ignoring repeat violators and reducing fines when it comes to enforcing laws that protect some of our most vulnerable workers.  As Wood’s report said, “[the] expectation of voluntary compliance with respect to repairs or corrective action has been ineffective.”

 

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Some of our state’s most vulnerable workers and their children face a new hurdle accessing medical care if a budget proposal eliminating the Migrant Fee for Service Program goes through. 

The program, administered by the Office of Rural Health and Community Care, provided specialty and dental care for more than 2200 farmworkers and farmworker children last year.  The community and migrant health centers where farmworkers typically go for healthcare usually do not provide these services, so providers rely on being able to refer their patients to the care they need through the Fee for Service Program.  At around $200 per encounter, this is a cost-effective way of preventing emergency room visits and chronic health problems. 

Of course, it would be great if the General Assembly would recognize that employers in one of the state’s most hazardous industries should be required to provide workers’ comp coverage to their workers just like everyone else, but until then, and until growers provide private health insurance, these uninsured workers are going to need treatment – and the Fee for Service Program needs to stay in the budget.