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June’s jobs numbers are out for North Carolina, showing that the state has held on to its unemployment rate of 6.4 percent for the second straight month.

Jobs-buttonThe national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent for June.

The North Carolina numbers for June released by N.C. Commerce Department show a much lower unemployment rate than a year ago, when unemployment was at 8.3 percent and one of the highest rates in the nation.

This month’s job report (click here to read) also shows the state’s labor pool is still shrinking, with 8,577 less people working in June than May.

Over the last year, the state’s labor force has shrunk by nearly 12,000, while the ranks of unemployed dropped by about 90,000 people, according to North Carolina job numbers.

That difference (a shrinking labor pool corresponding with a much larger drop in the numbers of the unemployed) has lead some economists to attribute North Carolina’s drop in its official unemployment rate not to a healthy economy, but to large numbers of long-term unemployed people dropping out of the workforce completely after last year’s cuts to unemployment benefits.

“There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina did anything to spur job growth,” wrote Washington-based economist Dean Baker in an editorial in the News & Observer earlier this month. “There is much evidence that it led those who saw their benefits end to give up looking for work and to drop out of the labor force.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/11/4000035/zero-evidence-that-benefit-cuts.html#storylink=cp
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619704/benefit-cuts-pushed-people-out.html#storylink=cpy

Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders disagree, and say those changes to the unemployment system and North Carolina’s subsequent rejection of federally-funded long-term unemployment help has put North Carolina in a better economic position.

“Yes, there are some people who probably took jobs they didn’t want instead of staying on unemployment,” McCrory said earlier this week in an interview with Charlotte’s WFAE radio program (discussion begins at 35:00).

“By the way, in my career, I’ve taken jobs that I don’t want,” McCrory said.  He added, “but it gets you in the door, it gets you working and it gets you off the government payroll.”

Click here to read the entire release on North Carolina’s jobs report for June.

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The state Senate pushed its most recent proposal in committee today to move North Carolina’s complicated and massive Medicaid program to a new structure outside of the state’s health agency.

MedicaidThe Senate’s Medicaid plan  would also open up the state’s $13 billion health care program for poor children, the disabled and elderly to privatization by managed care companies, by phasing out the current fee-for-service payment system in preference of paying for a set price-per-patient (called capitation).

Today’s Senate proposal (introduced Wednesday as a committee substitute for House Bill 1181) comes closer to what House members have wanted, but still has some significant differences.

Provider and doctors’ groups voiced criticism of the Senate proposal (click here to view a summary), saying that opening up the $13 billion government health care program to privatization could lead to out-of-state companies siphoning off profits at the expense of patient care.

“The Senate’s new proposal to upend North Carolina’s Medicaid program would harm our state’s most vulnerable patients,” said Robert Seligson, the director of N.C. Medical Society, in a statement released Wednesday. “The Senate preference for corporate managed care disregards the hard, productive work over the past year to craft a consensus Medicaid reform plan that provides more financial certainty for the state without compromising patient care.”

The new Senate proposal would shift the Medicaid program out from under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to a new Department of Medical Benefits headed by seven board members appointed by the governor and legislature.

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Gov. Pat McCrory is facing scrutiny over his decision to name a fairly unknown Fuquay-Varina woman as the state’s top poet.

Valerie Macon was named Friday as North Carolina’s poet laureate, and has self-published two collections of poetry through a small Sylva-based publisher, Old Mountain Press. (Click here and here to read some of her poems).

The state poet laureate position is largely ceremonial but past poet laureates have received stipends of up to $15,000 from the N.C. Arts Council for proposed work over a two-year period.

N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

As the Charlotte Observer’s Dannye Romine Powell first reported Sunday, McCrory bypassed a route favored by his predecessors to consult and seek recommendations from the N.C. Arts Council, a state-run group under the state’s cultural resources department.

The arts council, which consists of board members appointed by the governor, sent out a statement Monday backing McCrory.

“While past appointments included a selection committee, it is not required as part of the selection process,” the statement from the council states. “It is the Governor’s appointment and the prerogative of his office to select the state’s Poet Laureate. The North Carolina Arts Council is looking forward to working with Ms. Macon in her term.”

Past poet laureates told the Observer while they would support Macon in her new role, that  McCrory’s decision would hurt the state’s strong literary tradition.

Greensboro’s Fred Chappell, who was North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2002,  described McCrory’s appointment of Macon to the Observer as an “arbitrary seizure of power that’s liable to result in unfortunate circumstances.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/14/5043559/former-poets-laureate-take-high.html#storylink=cpy

It’s unclear how McCrory came to select Macon, who also works for the N.C. Department of Heath and Human Services as a disability determination specialist.

Rick Martinez, a McCrory spokesman, said the governor generally asks for recommendations and input for appointments to boards and commissions. Martinez said he did not know how what happened in the poet laureate nomination.

McCrory was not required to consult the N.C. Arts Council, Martinez said.

“That’s the governor’s prerogative to make the appointment,” he said.

 

 

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The mayor of a small coastal town with a recently-shuttered rural hospital began a nearly 300 mile walk to Washington, D.C. to call attention to his community’s lack of emergency medical care.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal  (Photo by Adam Linker)

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal
(Photo by Adam Linker)

Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven on North Carolina’s Inner Banks, began his walk after a brokered plan with Vidant Health to keep the Pungo District Hospital open fell apart last month. He’s expected to arrive in Washington in two weeks.

The nearest hospital and emergency care to the Beaufort County town is now in Greenville, nearly 50 miles and an hour’s drive away from Belhaven.

O’Neal has partnered with the N.C. NAACP to call for both Medicaid expansion and for the Belhaven hospital to stay open.

Vidant Health officials, when it initially announced its plan to close the hospital, said the N.C. legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid meant the hospital wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open with a large segment of uninsured residents.

The Carolina Mercury posted this article today about O’Neal’s march, and included a letter from the mayor about the reasons behind the march.

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It might be time to stock up on bug spray.

North Carolina is poised to do away with what remains of its state-run mosquito control program, if proposals to eliminate $185,992 in funding are adopted in the final budget.

The likely elimination of the vector control program in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t gotten much – or really,  any – attention as lawmakers contend with major policy shifts in the $21.1 billion budget like kicking off thousands of elderly and disabled off of Medicaid rolls and eliminating thousands of teachers aides.

But this year’s proposed cuts to the mosquito program could be the final step in dismantling what was once a top-notch state program to combat diseases spread by insects like mosquitoes and ticks, said Dennis Salmen, a retired Mecklenburg County environmental health director who now monitors legislation for the N.C. Mosquito and Vector Control Association.

“We were considered a model state for this,” Salmen said. “Not anymore.”

The $186,000 cut was included in all three budget proposals for the 2014-2015  fiscal year from Gov. Pat McCrory, the House and the Senate. The money has been  distributed in past years to various towns and counties to help support existing efforts to spray and prevent mosquito outbreaks.

Counties and cities have long supported their own spraying and prevention programs, but the state funding, even if minimal, made a big difference to towns in the coastal plains with small budgets and lots of mosquitoes,  he said.

The more significant blow to North Carolina’s mosquito and pest control programs came in 2011, when the newly-empowered Republican legislature passed a budget that eliminated $500,000 in funding for the Pest Management Control Program . The program in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources was made up of two entomologists and three environmental scientists that tracked and monitored diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes in the state.

Those state-funded positions that are now gone, though a position to monitor bed bug infestations was absorbed by the state agricultural department.

This year’s proposed cuts, on top of the 2011 cuts, is leaving North Carolina unprepared to handle any outbreaks of diseases that mosquitoes can carry, a risk to public health, Salmen said.

“We’re going to use humans as diseases sentinels,” he said. “If my son or daughter dies, I’m not going to be too happy with that.”

.Source: CDC, 2010 data

RMSF reports (from tick bites). Source: CDC, 2010 data

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