2018 Fiscal Year State Budget

If we care about our children, why do we lunch shame?

Have you ever watched an 11-year-old, short a dollar, pleading with the cafeteria worker to “please let me pay you back” in order to avoid the embarrassment of handing back over his hot meal?

I have. And it’s heartbreaking.

This school year, a Buncombe County elementary school made headlines when a student was threatened with being excluded from the school’s field day as punishment for unpaid lunch debt. While this particular incident gained national attention, “lunch shaming” – the practice of punishing or embarrassing students who do not have enough money for lunch – is prevalent in schools across the state and nation.

In far too many schools, it is common practice to shame children for failing to come up with the $2 or so that a hot meal at lunch costs. In many cases, their meals are thrown away and children are forced to eat an alternative (often a cold sandwich). In some of the more extreme cases, students are forced to work off their debts. Using shame by distinguishing them from their peers who are able to pay is not acceptable. And in many situations, children avoid the embarrassment altogether by skipping meals.

This year, the NC Senate’s budget proposed eliminating categorical eligibility in SNAP (formally known as food stamps), which threatened free and reduced lunches for up to 51,000 children. State legislators have not only failed to address the issue of childhood hunger, they have actively taken steps to make it worse.

Our leaders are also missing the larger picture, to the detriment of our communities and children. If we, as a state, value the health and well-being of our children, we should be focusing on how to ensure that no child, anywhere, is ever hungry.

Thankfully, there are policies that can help us to achieve this goal. One way is to make sure that food and nutrition services in schools are not based on receipts alone but are funded fully. House Bill 891 sought to make school breakfast and lunch available, free of cost, to any child who wanted it. Other states such as New Mexico have passed legislation to prevent lunch shaming and to prioritize feeding children.

At the federal level a policy that allows for universal provision of breakfast called community eligibility is available to North Carolina school districts.  More than 700 schools in North Carolina participated and even more are eligible for the program.

It’s time that we take the fight against childhood hunger seriously.

In North Carolina, 1 in 6 households with children are food insecure, making school lunches a critical source of nutrition for many students. Denying children of a nutritious meal, for whatever reason, is not in line with our state’s values.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Report: North Carolina’s state budget needs to plan for at least $13 billion more over the next 10 years to address federal funding cuts

As the N.C. House and Senate continue their Conference Committee to talk about the state budget, federal funding cuts loom overhead. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut non-defense programs by an estimated $2.5 trillion nationally over the next decade – the largest dollar cuts to programs for low-and moderate-income people proposed by any president’s budget in the modern era.

Given the massive cuts to federal funding proposed by the President, North Carolina would have to come up with at least $13 billion in additional revenue over the next 10 years to maintain existing vital programs, according to a new report from the NC Budget & Tax Center.

The report finds the proposed federal budget would shift significant costs to North Carolina by cutting federal funding for health care, food assistance, and many other areas. The report points out:

  • Under the proposed budget all low and moderate-income programs would see increasing cuts in spending over the next ten years, reaching a 33 percent cut in 2027.
  • The President’s budget would require North Carolina to pay $562 million annually (25 percent) of SNAP (formerly known as food stamp) benefits by 2023. For NC, this means $3.9 billion over the next 10 years.
  • NC would need to come up with at least $6 billion over the next 10 years to maintain Medicaid.
  • In 2018 alone, North Carolina would need to make up $306 million to replace the loss of discretionary grant funding proposed by Trump’s budget. This includes cuts to Social Services Block Grant, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Community Development Block Grants.

Considering both the U.S. federal budget outlook and the need to continue to support thriving communities here in North Carolina and across America, the report concludes with a timely recommendation:

“An important first step will be for North Carolinians and policymakers to oppose further cuts in state revenue in order to adequately plan and prepare for a challenging fiscal environment.”

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.
2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Six amendments, six funerals, and one lackluster House budget

The NC House’s quick turnaround in debating and passing its proposed two-year state budget reflects the priorities and choices of House leadership. In less than 24 hours, House lawmakers gave two favorable votes for its proposed budget, but not before rejecting and dismissing a number of proposed amendments that would have boosted public investments that serve as bridges to opportunity and that promote thriving communities. These amendments were rejected as opponents claimed that we don’t have the money for these worthwhile investments and that we must stay the course with the austerity budget approach state leaders have pursued in recent years – a course that Kansas recently reversed after it left their state budget in tatters.

Six proposed amendments would have increased state support for public education, expanded access to opportunity for rural NC and provided a modest boost to the fixed incomes of state retirees. However, these six amendments were met with six quick funerals. A majority of House members voted against four of the amendments, and two were tabled and never got a vote on the House floor.

Six amendments that were rejected by House lawmakers   

Staying the course

For North Carolina, staying the course means prioritizing tax cuts – that have largely benefited the highest income earners in the state and profitable corporations – at the expense of public investments that promote broadly shared prosperity. The House budget includes a package of tax cuts that reduce available revenue by $120 million for fiscal year 2018 and by $246.1 million the following fiscal year. The price tag of tax cuts included in the House budget is nearly equivalent to total revenue needed to pay for all six of the highlighted amendments that met an unfortunate demise.

This is what stay the course means for North Carolina in 2017 and foreshadows the state’s future. Lawmakers have made the decision to reject boosting public investments amid an improving economy. They favor tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations rather than boosting state funding for public education, expanding access to opportunity for rural NC and helping ensure that state retirees can make ends meet on fixed incomes. This post-mortem of six amendments and six funerals highlights how the priorities and choices of House leadership resulted in a lackluster budget. The writing is on the wall, and it doesn’t read well for North Carolina. Just ask Kansas.

Cedric D. Johnson is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Bipartisan group of Kansas legislators stops failed tax-cut experiment

As North Carolina’s General Assembly begins the process of reconciling the budget proposals from the House and Senate, they would be wise to look to the newspapers in Kansas today.

A bipartisan supermajority of both houses rejected Gov. Brownback’s tax cutting agenda and choose a different approach—funding the programs and services that can grow the economy stronger and for all through a $1.2 billion revenue package.

This leadership from the Kansas Legislature came as cuts to schools, health care and infrastructure were mounting, the state’s fiscal stability was questioned by rating agencies, and many tax-cut supporters lost their bid for re-election in the Fall of 2016.

As Nick Johnson with the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities noted in a statement:

“Kansas’ five-year experiment shows us what happens when we try to tax-cut our way to prosperity, but the legislature’s action reminds us that we have other options.”

North Carolina Representatives and Senators, we too have better options.

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, Environment, public health

NCGA welcomes 2017 hurricane season with abysmal disaster relief funding budget

Last week, the NC General Assembly welcomed in 2017’s hurricane season with a woefully inadequate budget proposal for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief funding. At only $150 million slated for hurricane recovery with $930 million of unmet need, the NCGA misses an opportunity to address long-term environmental and community resiliency.

Poultry waste can be seen streaming into floodwaters from flooded poultry facility near Seven Springs, NC

Poultry waste can be seen streaming into floodwaters from flooded poultry facility near Seven Springs, NC

Last October, in the wake of the hurricane, the Neuse River reached an historic peak of 29.74 feet, wreaking havoc on the region’s waterways and displacing thousands of people, destroying homes and entire communities, and exacerbating existing environmental justice issues in the region. The flooding contaminated the Neuse, Cape Fear, and Lumber River watersheds from various industrial polluters – including 14 swine waste lagoons, human waste from wastewater treatment facilities, and coal ash from a dam breach at the H.F. Lee plant near Goldsboro. Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr notes that communities are likely also facing contamination from poultry facilities, but because the Department of Environmental Quality does not require them to be permitted, they have no record of where these facilities are and therefore cannot do the appropriate testing.

Climate change will make problems worse

In a region that is already hurting from decades of environmental injustices – enduring the worst of industrial swine and poultry operations and coal burning power plants – displacement and disruption from this kind of natural disaster only worsens conditions for the families who have historically been industry dumping ground.

Unfortunately, climate change will only make the problem worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that this year’s hurricane season will be a busy one – with an above-average number of storms expected in the Atlantic. Climate change creates conditions for continuous rainfall and flooding, not just major storms, which also pose a threat for frontline communities. Flood plain management in eastern North Carolina will be critical for its ability to weather future natural disasters. The state must move agricultural and municipal wastewater facilities out of the 100-year floodplains to avoid future flooding-induced contamination, and we must rebuild the outdated water and sewer infrastructure to protect the health and safety thousands of families. With last week’s announcement from the Trump Administration that the U.S. will exit the Paris Climate Agreement, it is unlikely that we will see action quick enough to curb the worst effects of a quickly changing climate.

We need leadership

The NCGA must take the long view in rebuilding eastern NC. NC leaders continue to ignore the scale of the problem, continue to leave thousands of children and families behind. How much longer will our elected leaders insist on a Band-Aid to stop a gaping wound?