Uncategorized

NC Department of Commerce found to violate Civil Rights Act

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A multi-year investigation launched after a complaint was filed by Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center, and Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont found the North Carolina Department of Commerce failed to comply with its obligations to provide services to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). And yesterday, the state entered an agreement with the US Department of Labor to finally begin addressing this long-standing problem.

The original complaint alleged that the Department’s Division of Employment Security (DES) and Division of Workforce Solutions (DWS) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not offering language assistance to persons filing claims for unemployment insurance or seeking job placement or training.  In addition, the complaint asserted that the Department of Commerce did not provide written translations of vital documents and failed to make telephone and online services accessible to LEP persons.

For the 430,000 North Carolinians with limited English proficiency at the time the complaint was filed in 2013, the Department’s failure to provide adequate language access caused significant difficulties for them accessing services and benefits.  The complaint included affidavits from affected individuals who had to wait hours in order to receive language assistance.  Some were unable to report their work search because the telephone and online services to do so are only in English.  None was offered any job search or job training services. 

The complaint was filed after years of attempts by the complainant organizations to reach an informal resolution with the Department, and was updated in 2015 with examples of continuing problems.  The ongoing problems included: failure to identify appellants as LEP individuals needing interpretation for hearings, resulting in the need to reschedule the hearing; and sending notices of hearings and hearing decisions in English only.  There were also continuing problems with weekly job search reports since the only avenues for making such reports were in English.

Under the settlement agreement reached between the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center and the Department of Commerce, DES and DWS must

·         Assess the language needs of the LEP populations they serve and track and report encounters with LEP individuals;

·         Develop and implement meaningful language access plans;

·         Correct problems with translations of written materials and online services

·         Identify and correct deficiencies with the provision of interpreter services

·         Train all staff on their obligations to provide language access to LEP individuals

·         Publicize the availability of language assistance and review claims by LEP individuals whose services were denied or delayed

Whether the agreement results in meaningful access for LEP individuals to all of the services to which they are entitled will depend upon the commitment of the Department of Commerce to timely and effective implementation.

Uncategorized

The startlingly bad record of the General Assembly on Civil Liberties

The ACLU of North Carolina released its legislative report card on civil liberties today and it is not a pretty picture. Here is how ACLU-NC Policy Counsel Susanna Birdsong put it.

Simply put, the General Assembly has had an abysmal record on civil liberties in recent years. These recent bills, many of which became law, represent unprecedented attacks on civil liberties that have collectively restricted personal freedom, bodily autonomy, and equality under the law for countless North Carolinians.

The report card includes a list of some of the worst bills passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, starting with one that continues to demonize a group of people and damage the state economy.

Remove legal protections for and encourage discrimination against LGBTQ people, particularly transgender men and transgender women (HB2)

Triple the mandatory waiting period for a woman who has decided to have an abortion to 72 hours, the longest waiting period in the country (HB465)

Give law enforcement broad authority to keep body and dash camera footage from the public (HB972)

Fuel anti-immigrant sentiments and make it harder for immigrants to identify themselves to government officials (HB318)

Remove transparency and oversight from the administration of the death penalty in an effort to jump-start executions (HB774)

You can find out how your legislator voted on civil liberties legislation by checking out the full ACLU-NC report card here.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Bipartisan agreement to address persistent poverty

The persistence of poverty in certain regions and communities across the country and within North Carolina has long held back the broader economy from performing at full capacity and delivering the greatest benefit to the most people.  In North Carolina, there are still 10 counties where poverty rates have remained above 20 percent for more than three decades.

That is why the emerging bipartisan consensus on setting a reasonable target to direct federal funds to these communities is encouraging.  The plan states that at least 10 percent of a federal program’s funds should go to counties where at least 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty for at least 30 years.  In the upcoming months, there may be several opportunities for the plan to be incorporated into the guidelines for funding the federal government.  In the meantime, from this Politico article, it is clear that a broad swath of the country could stand to benefit and that those affected by persistent poverty are diverse.

Nearly 500 counties across the United States suffer from the kind of persistent poverty that would make them eligible for the plan’s targeted funding, [Representative] Clyburn says — and it would give more Republican lawmakers something to brag about to constituents than Democrats. In 2009, Clyburn likes to note, 84 Republicans represented those counties, compared with 43 Democrats. The GOP held 311 counties and Democrats represented 149. (In terms of total population, the parties were more evenly split, with Republicans representing 8.3 million people from those counties and Democrats representing 8.8 million; another 14 counties with 5.3 million people were split between Republicans and Democrats.)

Uncategorized

Tropical Storm Hermine reminds us why FEMA wants federally funded construction on higher ground

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The path of Tropical Storm Hermine on Friday, Sept. 2. (Map from weather.com)

Go ahead, build on the lip of the shoreline, but don’t expect the feds to loan you any money for the project. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has proposed rules that would require homeowners and commercial construction companies that want federal funding to build on higher ground.

With Tropical Hermine bearing down on North Carolina, the State of Emergency declared for 33 counties in eastern North Carolina. It’s in these areas where the FEMA map changes will be of greatest interest and where you could expect resistance from the real estate/ construction industries.

FEMA has an interactive map that shows flood-prone areas, designated AE and VE.

FEMA is telling builders who want federal funds to build 2 feet above the 100-year floodplain for homes and commercial structures. However, nursing homes, hospitals and schools would have to be built 3 feet above that mark. A better idea? The 500-year flood plain.

There were already restrictions on federal funding for certain projects in flood zones, but these rules move the boundaries to account for the effects of climate change in low-lying areas, including storm surge, flooding and sea-level rise.

However, it’s important to note that the terminology “100-year flood” means that a flood statistically has a 1 percent chance of happening in a given year — not that the flood will occur only once in a 100 years.

The U.S. Geological Service points out that just because it rains 10 inches today doesn’t mean it can’t happen again within the next year. And if it rains 10 inches during a dry period, the flooding could be less severe than if the soil is already saturated.

And as floods occur, they change the landscape, carving new tributaries and inlets that in turn, change the flood plains. That’s why we need new flood maps and new rules on where it’s sane to build.

 

 

Commentary, Uncategorized

Advocates continue to press for Medicaid expansion

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Advocates, providers, and people in the coverage gap gathered at the General Assembly yesterday to champion for Medicaid expansion. When NC legislators passed SB 4 in 2013, which purposely blocked the state from closing the coverage gap, advocates knew that it would take continued action of many to ensure that NC legislators understand the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

The press event hosted by Sen. Floyd McKissick at the General Assembly was the culmination of a week of activities that helped raise awareness about the impact of failing to extend coverage to approximately 500,000 people in the coverage gap. On an individual level, Medicaid expansion will increase people’s ability to receive less costly preventive care and improve people’s ability to manage chronic medical conditions instead of relying on emergency care. Sonya Taylor, who is in the coverage gap, shared her story during the press event. Ms. Taylor noted that she has to rely on the support of church, family, and friends not just to deal with the pain, but to be able to afford to see a primary care provider. She works and saves money, but because of the complexity of her medical condition, she cannot report good health because occasional visits to a primary care doctor are not enough.

Ignoring the call to expand Medicaid also impacts entire counties. As Dr. Charlie van der Horst said during his speech, residents in low-resource counties such as Scotland, Vance, Caldwell, Anson, and Lenoir counties are two times more likely to die prematurely than residents of more affluent counties like Wake County. Statewide, closing the coverage gap could prevent 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year. When you consider the fact that many rural hospitals are especially vulnerable to closing without the financial boost they would receive from Medicaid expansion, many more children, families and working adults are likely to face poor health outcomes.

On the state-level, lawmakers rejected 43,000 jobs by 2020 when they failed to expand Medicaid this year. Each year that legislators refuse increasing access to health care to nearly a half million North Carolinians, they are also failing to accept $2 billion in federal funds. Refusing to close the coverage gap also prevents approximately 144,000 children from receiving necessary health care because they lack health coverage. Further, 29,000 fewer individuals in NC would report experiencing depression each year if lawmakers would expand Medicaid. Each year policymakers fail to the close the coverage gap, 40,000 women do not receive preventive screenings. While the day of advocacy is over, we must continue to remind legislators that closing the coverage gap is a not a political game, but a policy that impacts the health and economic well-being of children, workers, families, communities, and the entire state.