2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Twelve more big policy changes buried in the N.C. Senate budget

There are a lot of issues with the N.C. Senate budget proposal as drafted. One issue is the sheer number of major substantive policy changes, including in the biennial spending proposal. Absent a full debate by policymakers and public input on each of these items, it is impossible to fully consider the multitude of ways in which the systems serving North Carolinians and communities will change as a result of the passage of this single bill. We noted a dozen such items in a post last week. Here are another dozen that should give further support to the notion that the House needs to start from scratch with a budget proposal that truly seeks to serve the broader good:

  1. Increases expenditures on ads for the North Carolina Education Lottery to 2 percent up from 1 percent (page 10, Section 5.3 (b))
  2. Converts state’s drivers education program provided to students to a reimbursement program that will likely price-out and reduce the number of low-income students served by program (page 31, Section 7.21 (b))
  3. Establishes individual county Departments of Social Services as financially responsible for erroneous issuance of Medicaid benefits and Medicaid claims payments (page 174, Section 11H.22(f))
  4. Eliminates the local school board statutory authority to file funding lawsuits against its county (page 53, Section 7.30)
  5. Eliminates longevity pay for principals and assistant principals (page 57, Section 8.3(a))
  6. Creates the Legislative School to replace the Governor’s School and gives the authority to approve the curriculum to the UNC Board of Governors (page 74, Section 10.16(a))
  7. Increases the age of juvenile jurisdiction except for certain felonies but without funding for the juvenile justice system (Section 16D.4(a))
  8. Aligns Department of Transportation program for participation by disadvantaged minority-owned and women-owned businesses with federal law to limit requirements and application to specific projects or contracts (page 317, Section 34.15(a))
  9. Requires the return of Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant funds if projects in a municipality or county fail to be completed within six years despite long-time frames for securing all funding needed, review by all relevant agencies (page 32, Section 34.22(a))
  10. Eliminates Pesticides Advisory Committee (Page 195, Section 12.1)
  11. Creates new Site and Building Development Fund, a loan fund designed to help communities put up shell buildings, water/sewer, access roads with no clarity on how it will interact with the existing Industrial Development Fund, which provides grants for the same purpose (except buildings) (Page 229, Section 15.7)
  12. Earmarks Rural Division grants for specific projects in lawmakers’ districts (Page 232, Section 15.8)
2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Eliminating food assistance will hurt North Carolinians across the state

A provision of the NC Senate bill will take away critical food assistance for 133,000 North Carolinians. By prohibiting the state from utilizing categorical eligibility, low-income North Carolinians with high expenses such as child care will no longer be eligible to receive SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). In addition to families losing food assistance, many of the 51,000 children affected are also at risk of losing free or reduced cost lunch. Data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that North Carolinians in every county will be impacted by this. With this provision, North Carolinians across geographies, county lines, and from various backgrounds are all at risk of losing important supports.

As is shown in the map above, every county will be affected by the elimination of categorical eligibility. Click here to see how many adults and children will be impacted in your county.

Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Senate’s bill to strip food assistance is based on faulty reasoning and misinformation

A provision in the Senate bill, passed last week, will eliminate food assistance for 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, over 51,000 of whom are children. Specifically, the bill would prevent North Carolina from using a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility. Categorical eligibility allows low-income families with high expenses for things such as child care to qualify for food assistance.

In a recent multiple news articles, Sen. Ralph Hise, sponsor of the original bill, explained the Senate’s rational for including the provision. Hise argued that eliminating categorical eligibility will make SNAP (food stamps) more fair. But what is fair about stripping food assistance from low-income families which children in daycare or a family that faces expenses related to caring for a disabled family member? There is nothing “fair” about that.

Hise continues by also incorrectly arguing that the number of North Carolinians participating in SNAP has seen “tremendous growth” despite the recovery. This could not be further from the truth. Since peaking at 18.4% in August 2011, North Carolina’s SNAP participation rates have dropped to 13.9% today and are at their lowest levels since 2010. Today, fewer North Carolinians are on SNAP than have been since the beginning of The Great Recession, despite a growing North Carolina population.

The reality is that while unemployment has dropped, wages have not kept up with the rising costs of expenses such as child care and rent. Low-income families have fewer resources today to spend on food than ever. Hise concludes his explanation, arguing that the numbers provided to the Senate of people who would lose food assistance was lower than the most recent numbers provided by Department of Health and Human Services.

Regardless of whether or not Sen. Hise believed the number was small or large, the question still remains: When is it ever acceptable to take food away from struggling North Carolinians? Click To Tweet

The answer, obviously, is never.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

12 significant policy changes buried in the NC Senate budget

The North Carolina Senate passed a budget last week after less than 72 hours of public scrutiny and limited debate. While investment choices are the focus for the budget, the Senate budget also includes a number of special provisions that set out policy.

These policy changes don’t get the scrutiny or debate that they deserve when buried in the spending bill. They have the potential to make significant changes to the systems and services that reach North Carolina communities and families.

Here are just a dozen of the significant policy provisions from the Senate Budget that should have received robust debate and a full discussion of their implications for our state’s economy and well-being and serving the public good.  Many fall far short of those goals. Read more

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

NC Senate budget strips food assistance from children and families

As we wrote about last week, the Senate budget seeks to permanently prevent North Carolina from providing food assistance to low-income families with children through a process known as broad-based categorical eligibility (CAT EL).

A special data request to the Department of Health and Human Services finds that eliminating CAT EL would strip food assistance from more than 133,000 low-income North Carolinians, 51,345 of whom are children who could also lose free or reduced cost school lunch.

Thirty-six percent of the households that will lose food assistance have children, 28 percent support elders, and 23 percent are households with people who have disabilities.

What is most egregious about this provision is that SNAP is completely federally funded. The elimination of CAT El would result in ZERO cost savings to the state.

Not only will this bill result in zero savings, it is very likely that it will increase state administrative costs and hurt local economies. Eliminating broad-based CAT EL makes FNS rules more complicated and burdensome on the Division of Social Services. Rules will have to be changed, NC FAST (the state’s new benefits delivery system) and applications will have to be modified, and staff will have to be retrained. By reducing efficiency and increasing workload, this would likely increase administrative costs—the only state costs associated with FNS benefits—and potentially raise FNS error rates.

The immediate impact of reducing access to food assistance will ripple through local economies as well when families do not have the very modest resources (the average impacted household receives only $68.74 a month) to purchase groceries in their community.  In the long-term, a lack of access to food will impact the health outcomes of families, and, for children, it has been linked to lower educational attainment and lifetime earnings.

There is absolutely no fiscal rational to stripping critical food assistance from tens of thousands of North Carolinians in need. Rather than looking out for the best interest of North Carolinians, state policy makers are choosing to play politics.