Commentary, News

Cooper administration releases county-by-county numbers on GOP food aid cutoff

Governor Cooper has released more  details about the 133,000+ North Carolinians the Senate would cut off of SNAP food assistance with its you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up budget proposal, including county-by-county numbers broken down by adults and children. For instance, more than 7,000 children 18 and younger would lose food in Mecklenburg County. Here’s the statement from the administration:

Senate Republicans quietly inserted a provision in their budget to cut SNAP food assistance benefits for 133,000 North Carolinians last week, including 51,000 children.

The cuts were not debated or mentioned by Republican leaders, and would not save the state any money, as the food assistance program is 100% federally funded. The cuts are also expected to cause many students from low-income families to lose free and reduced lunch eligibility.

Governor Cooper issued the following statement:

“In addition to giving millionaires tax breaks 60 times larger than middle class families, Senate Republicans quietly slipped a provision in their budget to cut 100% federally-funded food-stamps for 133,000 North Carolinians. This includes 51,000 children, many of whose free or reduced lunch status is jeopardized with this action. This food makes a real difference for families who need it and doesn’t cost North Carolina any state tax money. Lining the pockets of millionaires while going out of the way to make it harder for children to eat is just wrong.”

See how many families and children would be affected by these cuts in each county: Read more

Commentary

63 years ago today, a Republican-led Supreme Court struck down school segregation as unconstitutional

Chief Justice Earl Warren – Image: Wikipedia

For the millions of Americans who’ve come of age in recent decades, it may seem hard to believe, but there was a time in U.S. history in which the Republican Party (i.e. the party of Lincoln) often led the fight to combat racism in America, while many Democrats — especially in the South — dragged their feet. Today, May 17, offers a potent reminder of that long ago-expired reality as it is the 63rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous, landmark ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Read once more the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, a Republican appointed by a Republican president:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group…Any language in contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Now try to imagine any of the modern day conservative ideologues who inhabit the Court — much less any of the extremists who would lower themselves by accepting a nomination from the current Prevaricator-in-chief — authoring any such powerful and progressive words. And if we could somehow bring back to life the troubled haters and segregators who sought to resist the Court’s ruling in the years that followed the Brown ruling, there can be little doubt as to what their stance would be vis a vis the current inhabitant of the White House — much less as to which side they would take in the modern ideological debate between those who want to save public education and make it work for all and those who want to crucify what they derisively refer to as “government schools” on the disingenuous altar of “school choice.”

Commentary

Berger tries and fails to offer credible defense of 3:00 a.m. amendment blitz

The numerous unflattering news stories and commentaries that have arisen in recent days in response to last Friday morning’s outrageous Senate budget blitzkrieg appear to have had an impact on Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Whereas the usual response from Berger to just about any criticism from any corner is to lash out with barbed/venomous attacks in which he derides his critics and/or calls them names that he intends to be derogatory, the Senator was strangely muted in a statement he gave to Raleigh’s News & Observer yesterday.

This is from reporter Colin Campbell’s story:

“N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger is defending Republican legislators’ controversial 3 a.m. move to strip funding from several education programs in counties represented by Democrats. He argues that the change was necessary to address the state’s opioid epidemic without raising taxes.

The budget amendment was passed moments after it was introduced early Friday morning, following a two-hour Senate recess called when GOP leaders became visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments….

On Tuesday, Berger issued a statement about the amendment – his first public comment on the issue.

‘This amendment helped address, without raising taxes, the opioid crisis that Sen. (Paul) Lowe tried to address with a large tax increase in his amendment,’ Berger said in an email.

Lowe’s amendment, which was rejected, would have added about $15 million for opioid treatment programs – a proposal from Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget – by scaling back the Senate’s proposed personal income tax cut.”

Berger’s somewhat less strident than usual tone didn’t rescue the statement from being anything other than nonsense, however.  The notion that the budget (which socked away hundreds of millions of dollars in a “rainy day fund” and gave millions in new tax cuts to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers) could only address the need for opioid services by slashing already underfunded programs in areas served only by Democrats — i.e. the people who had just had the temerity to question some of the overarching policies in the budget — is an insult to the intelligence of all North Carolinians. As Chris Fitzsimon noted yesterday, whatever Berger says in an attempt to defend his Trump-like behavior, it remains indefensible:

“Senator Berger and his fellow bullies were willing to punish students and schools in North Carolina because their Democratic colleagues made them stay up late and defend the budget they unveiled only a few days before.

Just a few years ago, the shocking undemocratic episode in the General Assembly would have resulted in screaming headlines and been the talk of the political world for days.

Not now, with bizarre news from Washington almost every day.

Maybe Senate leaders think they can do anything they want any time they want with no repercussions.

They are certainly acting like it, democracy and common decency—and the people of North Carolina be damned.”

The bottom line: Berger’s slightly-less-hostile tone is welcome, but he has a long way to go if he wants to start engaging in genuine and honest dialogue about the issues confronting the state.

Commentary

Senator Ralph Hise: Too busy to file campaign finance reports, but not to cut kids off of food assistance

Senator Ralph Hise

There’s more “you can’t make this stuff up” news from the North Carolina General Assembly this week. As reported in this space Monday, lawmakers slipped a provision into the Senate budget (none of this stuff ever gets done or debated in public anymore) to slash SNAP food assistance benefits to as many as 133,000 North Carolinians — more than a third of whom are children.

The reasoning? Well, actually there isn’t any — any that make sense.

The apparent driving force behind the change, Senator Ralph Hise, told WRAL that senators didn’t like the fact that: a) some people were getting benefits automatically merely because they were poor enough to qualify for other programs (huh?), b) the rolls have been growing in recent years (welcome to the modern, haves-and-have-nots economy, Senator) and c) North Carolina’s eligibility standards were more generous than some other states (Heaven forbid).

Here’s the kicker, however: The change doesn’t save the state a dollar. The funding is all federal. This is from the WRAL story:

“DHHS Deputy Secretary Susan Perry-Manning explained that the program is funded by the federal government, not the state, so cutting it has no effect on the state budget.

‘It doesn’t save the state any money,’ Perry-Manning said. ‘These are federal dollars that are not capped.'”

In fact, by cutting off assistance to tens of thousands of people, the Senate would actually injure the state’s economy and, in particular, the hundreds of retailers who take SNAP benefits. In other words, the reason for cutting people off is that Senators are mean and just felt like it.

And here’s another remarkable kicker: Senator Hise, the man who’s so upset about some poor people getting food assistance and who has enough time on his hands to engineer a budget provision to cut off 133,000 people, is the same fellow under investigation for failure to file campaign finance reports and, allegedly, misusing campaign funds for his own benefit. He is also the same person who takes home a nice public salary in the position of “Coordinator of Special Projects” at Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine.

The bottom line: If Senator Hise had simply complied with state election laws (thereby abrogating the need for a costly investigation), he’d almost certainly save the state more money than he will by cutting off food aid to struggling families. Maybe he could get approval from the folks at Mayland Community College to add it to his list of special projects.

One final note: In commenting on a previous post on the subject of Sen. Hise’s troubles with the Board of Elections, a commenter suggested that Hise’s mother is ill and that that is the reason for his failure to file his reports. If this is true about Hise’s mother, this is very sad news and we wish her well. Such a situation does not, however, abrogate the senator’s duty to comply with the law or serve the people of North Carolina in the Senate with some modicum of human decency and common sense.

Commentary

Tillis: Preexisting condition issue “pretty important” but should be left up to the states (i.e. Phil Berger)

North Carolina senator Thom Tillis has a not terribly encouraging take on Trumpcare and the prospect of repealing the vital guarantee in the Affordable Care Act that Americans cannot be denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition: he wants to leave the matter up to Phil Berger. That’s the only conclusion one an draw from Tillis’ recent Facebook town hall in which he responded to questions posed online. Click here to see the video.

Here’s the exact quote:

“But I think covering pre-existing conditions is pretty important. I don’t have a problem leaving it to the states to figure out how to implement it.”

You got that? Tillis apparently thinks it’s a good thing (or at least a pretty good thing) not to deny coverage to people who’ve been sick before or who have a genetic condition or who were the victims of sexual assault, but he doesn’t want to go crazy and get the federal government involved.

Of course, the plain and simple reality of such a stance in North Carolina is to say that one favors leaving the matter up to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. That’s because essentially nothing can become law in North Carolina right now without the say-so of the ultra-conservative Senate boss.

In the video, Tillis says he finds it “hard to believe that any state would not have this [preexisting condition protection] as part of its coverage strategies” and then offers an explanation as to why it would be politically perilous for states not enact such a provision, but of course, the same thing was said way back when at the outset of the ACA. At that time, it seemed unimaginable that states wouldn’t accept billions of dollars in federal assistance to expand Medicaid, help hundreds of thousands of deserving people and save thousands of lives, but that was before a lot of people actually confronted the dark reality of modern market fundamentalist ideology. And, of course, it was Tillis himself who helped lead the charge to turn down that life-saving expansion.

The bottom line: Thom Tillis may be ready to blithely repeal the ACA’s protection for people with preexisting conditions based on his supposed confidence state leaders would reenact something like it at the local level, but given past experience (and the senator’s own penchant for two-faced pronouncements), that is one hell of a thin reed on which to hang our hats.