News

Obamacare subsidies battle heading to the Supreme Court

Supreme courtIn case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out this article by NC Policy Watch’s Sharon McCloskey about North Carolina’s support for the provision of subsidies to low-income residents purchasing Obamacare.

Last week, Attorney General Roy Cooper signed on to a brief, on behalf of North Carolina, supporting these subsidies for low-income enrollees on the federal exchange.

In a number of lawsuits filed in federal courts, ACA opponents have argued that the law as written limits those subsidies to those who purchase on a state exchange and not, as interpreted by the Internal Revenue Service, to purchasers on either a state or federal exchange.

That interpretation would exclude North Carolinians, as well as the residents of the 33 other states in which governors opted to join the federal exchange rather than construct one of their own, from receiving the aid.

The lawsuit has been through several appeals and will now be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4th.

Twenty-two other states also signed the brief and collectively argue that a challenge to the subsidies should be rejected because they weren’t informed that residents of their state would be harmed if the state chose to use the federal exchange.

Most experts agree that a decision limiting subsidies to purchasers on state exchanges would cripple Obamacare.

The non-partisan Urban Institute projects that in 2016, the loss of subsidies in the 34 states using the federal exchange would deprive more than 9.3 million Americans of almost $29 billion in financial assistance — an average of $3,090 per eligible person — and increase the number of uninsured by about 8.2 million people nationally.

To read the full article, visit Policy Watch’s main page here.

News

Unemployment rates still high in many North Carolina counties

srs-unemployment3While it is positive news that fewer North Carolinians were unemployed in 2014 than in 2013, the reality is that we are still far from pre-recession employment rates.

As the Budget and Tax Center pointed out a in a release today:

Despite the decline in metro area unemployment year over year, there were still more unemployed North Carolinians in nearly all metro areas in December 2014 than there were in December 2007.

The latest data from the BTC’s County Labor Market Watch and Recession Watch shows that:

Many counties were better off in December 2007 than December 2014. There are still 24 North Carolina counties with unemployment rates higher than what they had in December 2007. There are 60 counties that had more unemployed workers in December 2014 than they did in December 2007, and 72 counties had fewer people in the labor force this past December than in December 2007.

Based on the data, slightly over half of North Carolina counties have an unemployment rate that is higher than the statewide 5.5 percent unemployment rate. Graham County at 12.3 percent has the highest unemployment rate in the state. These numbers are evidence that while the employment situation is improving in some counties, others are clearly not getting the help they need to recover from the recession.

“Any approach to badly needed economic development must consider this uneven recovery,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the BTC. “Lawmakers must pursue tools that deliver targeted support to grow opportunity in communities that continue to struggle now seven years after the start of the Great Recession.”

Commentary

UPDATE: Legislative briefing on “religious freedom” bill postponed

Gay prideThe closed-door meeting to discuss the new “religious freedom” bill has been postponed, according to an email sent out by the North Carolina Values Coalition. The organization claims that they received an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the meeting and have had to reschedule out of concern that the facility could not accommodate the crowd.

Unfortunately, postponement of the meeting will be unlikely to slow down the momentum of the “religious freedom” crusade. This morning, Senate leader Phil Berger introduced a “religious freedom” bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to be exempt from performing their duties if it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill attempts to be impartial on its face. It allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from their duties if they are asked to perform an act that goes against their religious beliefs but then also prevents them from performing any of their duties for the following six month period. In other words, they won’t be allowed to pick and choose which marriages to perform. The bill adds that there must be a magistrate available to perform marriages for at least ten hours a week over three business days. While all this may seem fair in theory, the reality is that, in many places in North Carolina, finding a magistrate willing to perform same-sex marriages and a register of deeds willing to sign the marriage license under such circumstances could be difficult. Adding to the burden for couples, will be trying to get in during the small window of time three days a week that these officials will be available. The overall result will be that LGBT couples will have a much harder time getting married if this bill is passed—the exact effect that was intended.

The North Carolina Values Coalition has indicated that they plan to seek much broader anti-LGBT legislation, than this bill. On the other side, Equality NC has also indicated that they fear additional legislation that will provide a broader license to discriminate.

The absurdity of the bill itself was pointed out by State Senator Jeff Jackson, during Equality NC’s press conference held today in anticipation of the bill’s introduction and the legislative briefing originally scheduled for this afternoon. As Jackson rightly observed, “in this nation, we don’t have to pass any government employee’s personal religious test in order to receive government service.” Apparently, Senator Berger missed that lesson in civics.

Commentary

“Religious freedom” bill for magistrates: A bad idea that would lead to many others

marriage amendmentAccording to news reports, Representative Paul Stam will hold some kind of legislative “briefing” tomorrow on a “religious freedom” bill that would permit magistrates and other state employees to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses if it violates their own religious beliefs.

This is an enormously troubling idea.

From a legal standpoint, permitting state employees to refuse to perform the duties of their job based on their faith opens the door to all sorts of potentially absurd new practices. There are many religions out there with many different beliefs, including some that are contrary to our state laws or policies. Are we now saying that a person’s individual, albeit sincerely-held, beliefs take precedence over the duties of their job? Can an EMT refuse to provide medical treatment to a member of the LGBT community because their lifestyle violates her religious beliefs? If a police officer, whose religion beliefs include the right of a man to discipline his wife, witnesses domestic abuse while on the job, can he choose not to arrest the husband? We’re heading down a very slippery slope with this bill.

But let’s think about this bill itself, which Stam claims is intended to defend religious freedom. The irony of this, of course, Read more

Commentary

Republicans take their first swing at Obama by voting to block his immigration initiatives

President Obama 4Today, Republicans in the U.S. House passed legislation that would reverse the immigration policies put in place by President Obama through executive action. The new legislation would terminate the temporary stay on deportation announced by Obama in November, a change that would have negative consequences for over six million immigrants. The legislation was voted on as an amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill.

A second amendment was also passed that would eliminate Obama’s 2012 immigration policy which granted work permits and deportation protections to the “Dreamers,” thousands of undocumented youth who were brought in this country as children and grew up here. Twenty-six Republicans, including Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, voted against this amendment which narrowly passed in a 218-209 vote.

The bill now moves to the Senate where it will face a tough battle to get the 60 votes needed for it to pass, particularly due to this second measure overturning immigration protections for the Dreamers. The legislation which would supply the Homeland Security Department with almost $40 billion for the rest of the budget year must be passed, with or without the amendments, before the Department’s current funding expires at the end of February.

This legislation comes as no real surprise given the strong opposition and outrage from many Republicans over what they saw as Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders. However, in this battle for political power, it does seem that many of our representatives haven’t taken the time to consider the uncertainty and fear this legislation has brought back into the lives of millions of immigrants.