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imageA popular theme on the Right is that having Medicaid health coverage is worse than having no health insurance at all.  After all the years I’ve spent traveling North Carolina and meeting people in poverty desperate for basic health care but with no way to pay for coverage I still can’t believe people can make this argument with a straight face.  Well, if you read one thing this weekend, read the incredibly moving story of the hardworking mom in Orlando, Florida who would have qualified for Medicaid but hasn’t because Florida, like NC, has refused to expand Medicaid.  She dropped dead – on a sales call for her vacuum cleaner sales job no less – of an existing heart condition she couldn’t adequately treat because she couldn’t adequately pay for coverage.

Photo credit: Think Progress

Photo credit: www.thinkprogress.org

As Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska has been reporting regularly of late, obtaining Food Stamps and the failure of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services to process applications in a timely manner remain big problems for lots of needy people.

One way to solve this problem, of course, would be for the McCrory/Wos administration to start doing its job and get claims processed properly. Another solution, however, that might have an even greater and more beneficial impact would be to raise incomes of people currently reduced to relying on Food Stamps — people like the workers at Wal-Mart.

Click here to read an amazing story and watch a compelling two-minute video about how the giant retailer (and the place where more Food Stamps are spent than anywhere else) could lift thousands of people out of poverty and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year just by paying workers a decent wage. And the impact on Wal-Mart prices of such a shift? Just over 1%!

Michelle Ford hasn’t received food stamp allotments since December, and the Greensboro mother says she’s out of options in trying to feed herself and her three children.

“We don’t have anything to eat,” Ford said. “This the way it’s been for the last two months, it seems like it’s just getting worse and worse.”

Ford usually receives $692 in food stamps a month to keep her family fed, but her January benefits never appeared. She said she’s neglected paying her light bill, car payment and other bills in order to keep her family fed.

“It’s been horrible,” she said, her voice clenched with tears. Her 18-year-old daughter stays with friends in order to get meals at night and was fired from a job at a McDonald’s stemming over a dispute about food she was taking to share with her family.

Ford’s problems come despite the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services declaring it has “reasonably achieved” an April 1 deadline set by federal officials to resolve a backlog of federally-funded food stamps cases statewide that had been in the tens of thousands for needy families.

A backlog of food stamps cases persisted for most of 2013 in the state when DHHS fully implemented a complicated benefits delivery system called N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services Through Technology). County-level workers struggled to get the system to work, and cases piled up with some going weeks or months without needed food assistance. ncfast

In Guilford County, where Ford lives, the state discovered in the week before the April 1 deadline that workers had been keeping as many as 8,1000 recertification cases in a separate system then the N.C. FAST benefits delivery system. The head of the county’s social services director resigned shortly after the backlog became public.

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voteGone are the days of registering to vote during early voting! If you want to take part in the fast-approaching May 6th primary, take note that today (Friday) is the deadline for getting registered to vote.

North Carolinians can stop by their county elections office to register. Registration forms can also be completed and turned in at the DMV or other public assistance agencies. Finally, forms postmarked by today’s deadline will be accepted for the upcoming election.

Click here  to download a voter registration form, and here for more info on where you can get registered.

Early voting for the May 6th primary begins April 24 and ends May 3.

Earlier this week the Budget & Tax Center released an analysis of the economic and fiscal impacts of providing all drivers a license regardless of immigration status.  The findings suggest that more than 250,000 undocumented immigrants could be eligible for a license and their children too.  The net fiscal impact of issuing these licenses would be minimal, based on experiences in other states, and estimated revenue from fees could likely cover the cost of providing the licenses completely.

For years, North Carolina has been at the forefront of adopting measures that improve safety on the roads, from graduated driver’s licenses for first-time drivers to texting bans to strict requirements on the transportation of children. But one simple measure has been ignored: ensuring all drivers have a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status.  In fact, since 2006, North Carolina has adopted more stringent identification requirements that effectively banned undocumented immigrants and others from obtaining a license.  This movement is in the opposite direction of the now 12 states that have expanded access to driver’s licenses recognizing the public safety benefits to having all drivers tested and insured.

Beyond providing greater assurance for all drivers that those on the road are tested, licensed and insured, driver’s licenses provide an important ability for workers to get to their jobs particularly as car travel is the dominant mode of transportation in North Carolina.  This increased mobility will likely lead to greater consumer spending, a more reliable workforce for employers, and a net benefit to the economy.