Getting in touch with reality

It’s hard to believe anyone could be as out of touch as John Hood. North Carolina’s very own conservative windbag — AKA Mr. Smirky – says in an article in Sunday’s Burlington Times News that Congress should not extend unemployment benefits because that would be a “disincentive” to getting those folks back into the job market.

Where does this guy live? Certainly not in my North Carolina, where the unemployment rate was 11.2% in December. Does he really think there are thousands of jobs out there going unfilled because all those lazy laid-off professionals are sitting at home, enjoying their unemployment checks? Has he ever tried to pay a mortgage or put a kid through college while on unemployment?

Let’s not forget the impact on the economy. In addition to helping families keep their homes and avoid financial disaster, the previously passed unemployment extensions have helped to stop the country from sinking into an even deeper and more painful recession.

 The National Employment Law Project estimates more than 13,500 North Carolinians will lose their unemployment benefits between March and June if Congress doesn’t pass an extension. And that’s nothing to smirk about.


There but for the grace of God go I

This morning, this is a heartbreaking story on the cover of the N&O.

Salima Mabry watched over her son Tuesday as he slept awkwardly in the chair where he had spent eight days waiting for a bed in a state mental hospital. Joshua Stewart, 13, is severely autistic and has an IQ of 36. He can only speak in short, single words, such as “Ma” or “hurt.” He first arrived at Wake County’s Crisis and Assessment unit for people with mental illness in the back of a squad car on Jan.18 after he attacked his mother and little brother.

As the mother of two sons with autism, one of whom has had serious issues with aggression, I can easily imagine myself in Ms. Mabry’s situation – desperate to find help for my child and also terrified of what he might do next. But I am lucky. My boys got slots in the Community Alternatives Program, which provides them with a variety of services, even as thousands of families around the state remained on the waiting list.

This is how budget cuts impact actual, real-life people. And this issue stretches well beyond the problems with inadequate mental-health funding. It’s about not providing enough teachers and not giving them the training they need so they can help children with disabilities. It’s about refusing to provide funds for early intervention services. It’s about cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates until providers are forced to stop taking those patients.

The budget is about much more than just money.


Priorities, people

This morning, I signed an online petition calling on NC’s Division of Medical Assistance to reconsider its decision to stop paying for Community-based Rehabilitative Services (CBRS) for children age three and under who have some sort of developmental delay. As the petition states:

There is mountains of research and evidence… that early intervention increases the developmental and educational gains for the child, improves the functioning of the family, and reaps long-term benefits for society.

Then there was the piece in today’s N&O that says the state is capping enrollment into its drug assistance program for HIV patients at the current level, meaning low-income people not currently in the program will not have access to the expensive life-saving drugs they need. This sentence in particular caught my attention:

Last year, state legislators allocated $11 million for AIDS drug assistance – about half of what had previously been budgeted, [Jacquelyn Clymore, head of the state’s HIV/STD Prevention and Care branch] said.

That reminded me of a front-page article in the N&O in December that said the state could save $11 million a year by ending the death penalty. The report cites a Duke University study that found the state wastes millions in seeking – not in the implementation, just in the actual pursuit of – the death penalty. In the article, Rep. Paul Stam argued that the death penalty is a crime deterrent, even though decades of research proves otherwise.

So in the end, money that could be used to help children overcome their disabilities or keep people alive will instead be used by the state to pursue the opportunity to kill someone.


Economic recovery efforts overlook communities of color

My co-worker and friend Ajamu Dillahunt is one of the authors of a new report from United for a Fair Economy called State of the Dream 2010: Drained – Jobless and Foreclosed in Communities of Color. It’s an in-depth look at how the Great Recession has devastated black and Latino communities (considerably more so than white communities) and how federal economic recovery efforts have failed to target those most in need.

The unemployment rate for Black and Latinos is at a 27-year high, 16.2% and 12.9% respectively. But sadly, the stimulus effort has overlooked that. In fact, much of the stimulus has overlooked communities of color all together.

From Ajamu’s column regarding the report, which appears on HuffingtonPost.com:

But even the aid for Main Street favors less-needy whites. By asking states for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, the President steered the money towards laid-off construction workers, disproportionately white men who recently had good jobs, rather than to human services and other more diverse occupations. The Associated Press reviewed more than 5,500 transportation projects using federal stimulus money, and found that 50 percent more per person will be spent in the lowest-unemployment places than in the communities that need the jobs most…

A fair jobs policy would not have to explicitly spell out race-equity; literal racial quotas might be controversial enough to kill a bill. But as the 2009 “Put America to Work Act” proposed, it could require the government to target job-creation spending to communities with the highest unemployment rates, or to the workers who have been jobless for the longest time.

President Obama has acknowledged the existence of structural racism. He knows that poor people of color face additional obstacles that poor whites don’t have to deal with.

But when he told the [Congressional Black Caucus] that all he “can do for the African-American community is the same thing [he] can do for the American community, period,” he was operating as if he believed the tired, old, color-blind myth that general anti-poverty programs will reach every group in need. Only by affirmatively targeting the communities pushed backwards by historic racial injustice will recovery efforts reach everyone.


The future of Wake County schools?

A report from the Charlotte Observer finds high-poverty schools are less likely to have teachers who have earned National Board Certification, an intensive process that takes about two years to complete and requires that teachers prove they have effective classroom skills. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools tries to entice teachers to their “highest-need schools” with financial incentives and good working conditions, but so far these efforts have had mixed results.

One sentence in the article jumped out at me: “Five elementary schools, with a total of 3,740 students and poverty levels ranging from 56 percent to 94 percent, have no certified teachers.”

94 percent of students in poverty?! In one school?!

I guess that’s the direction we’re heading in Wake County. The new “Gang of Five” running the Wake Co. Board of Education has already voted – in the sneakiest fashion possible – to end mandatory year-round schools, an important tool used to increase economic diversity in schools.

So you have to wonder, do the Gang of Five have a plan for ensuring that the new high-poverty schools they’re working to create will have the high-quality teachers and additional resources they will need? No, of course not. Those schools and the kids who will attend them, it would appear, are not their concern.