Commentary, News

High unemployment and loss of federal assistance continue to plague NC workers

This morning the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest weekly data on Unemployment Insurance claims, showing that jobless workers continued to make initial claims for UI in North Carolina at elevated levels. More than 13,000 initial claims were filed the week of September 12th, compared to 3,000 initial claims in the same week last year.

“Joblessness is widespread across North Carolina, and the loss of federal boosts to Unemployment Insurance is worsening the economic harm to people and communities,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center. “It is clear North Carolina is far from returning to prior employment levels and that UI must continue to be a federal and state priority in policymakers’ response to this economic downturn.”

The trends in UI in combination with recent labor market data released for North Carolina, as well as Household Pulse Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau for the week of September 14th, show there are widespread job losses and hardship.

More than 1.2 million North Carolinians have filed UI claims since the start of the pandemic. Daily new claims tracked by the Division of Employment Security show there have been more than 6,000 claims received.

North Carolina’s number of renter households behind on rent increased by nearly 30,000 week over week, suggesting the loss of UI could continue to ripple throughout the state and put pressure on communities.

The number of adults reporting being unable to put food on the table in their households totaled more than 780,000.

National figures not only show the persistent joblessness that is plaguing communities across the U.S. but also that the country needs sustained federal action on UI until the recovery is underway.

The latest available data find that North Carolina is losing at least $356 million each week in household income, impacting spending and the broader local economy. Across the country, researchers point to problems with the Lost Wages Assistance program not meeting the need and running out of core funding too soon to sustain workers through the crisis.

“Federal action on Unemployment Insurance is critical to keeping jobless workers connected to the labor market and ensuring that families aren’t pushed deeper into poverty as a result of job losses from the pandemic,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Taking action on unemployment now can make sure that people can pay rent and put food on the table, and will provide the foundation our economy needs to begin to recover. Absent this action, hardship will continue to ripple through communities.”

Julia Hawes is the Director of Communications for the NC Justice Center.

Commentary, COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center

NC early childcare system is left behind by inadequate COVID relief

As North Carolina parents juggle working, supervising remote learning and providing child care for their youngest kidssurvey data from August shows that our state’s childcare infrastructure needs more support. 

Early childhood educators have provided crucial supports for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people return to work, we’ll need a strong childcare system for a successful economic recovery.  

While many programs are re-opening, those that are currently operating reported serving about 30% fewer children than before the pandemic. Persistent low enrollment threatens the long-term viability of our childcare system. 

Family childcare homes are now serving about 85% of the children who were attending before the pandemic, and enrollment has been fairly steady since May. Childcare centers had steep declines in enrollment, but attendance in open centers has increased since May and now stands at 59%  


Early childhood educators depend on parent fees to cover the costs of running a program, which in turn enables them to earn a living and support their own families. This is why declines in enrollment are such a problem. 

For family childcare homes, even relatively small declines in enrollment make it hard to stay open, as they tend to run on razor-thin margins. Even before the pandemic, early childhood educators made less than $11 per hour on average in North Carolina, frequently with no benefits. Low wages make it challenging for program directors to retain staff, an issue that is heightened by the pandemic.  

At a virtual town hall hosted in August by the North Carolina chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Moms Rising, early childhood educators spoke passionately about their commitment to the youngest North Carolinians and their struggles to stay afloat during COVID-19. 

In the words of Darlene Brannon, a childcare center director with 15 years of experience:  

It was a real honor to come into this field  [but] we’re are not getting paid to do all that we’re doing. A lot of our parents have not been able to come back to the childcare center, because they’re not working yet  Even the parents that are still coming, that are essential workers  they’re not making enough money to pay the parent fee as well as pay for food for their children. 

Darlene’s experience shines a light on the need to build a childcare system that works for parents and educators. Instead, chronic underinvestment coupled with a lack of meaningful COVID response creates false choices between directing assistance to parents of young children or to educators.  

HB 1105, the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 passed by the NC General Assembly on Sept. 4, didn’t go nearly far enough to sustain and strengthen our childcare system. The bill provided $35 million for operating grants to early childcare programs, and while this funding is desperately needed, it is a one-time investment unlikely to cover more than one to two months of bonus and retention payments.  

The bill offers $8 million in additional childcare assistance payments for parents, but this is far below what is needed. The money would serve only about 1,300 kids for one year, leaving too many behind.

According to the NC Early Education Coalition, at least 14,000 eligible families are on the waitlist for childcare support The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education had been covering co-pays for parents receiving childcare subsidies during the pandemic, but without any additional funds, that support has now ended.  

In addition, the funding is is limited to support for remote learning opportunities, which creates unnecessary hurdles for families seeking assistance. 

Instead of providing more support to low-income families, HB 1105 allocated $440 million to the poorly designed Extra Credit Grant Program, providing one-time direct cash payments of up to just $335 to North Carolina parents.

These grants are not targeted to the parents who need them most. Because the grants will rely primarily on tax filings to distribute paymentsthey may even exclude many of the state’s lowest-income families who do not earn enough to file taxes but who do contribute through sales and other taxes. 

Furthermore, our current childcare subsidy system does not cover the actual cost of providing quality care. Our state needs to adjust reimbursement rates for the programs that provide care to families receiving subsidies in order to ensure they are adequate, equitable, and offer early childcare educators a living wage. 

North Carolina needs long-term public investment in early childcare. It is necessary to support our recovery from COVID-19, to ensure that programs are open as parents return to work, and to continue for a stronger state.

Childcare providers see the value of their work every day, and comprehensive public funding would show that North Carolina recognizes their value as well, and the value of the children in their care and the families that rely on them. As Stephanie Shell, a family childcare home provider, said at last month’s town hall: 

I ask that our legislators think aboutthe studies that show the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical of their development, and that we are the people helping with those first five years. We would like to see that reflected in theirdecisionmaking in terms of funding and support for us through this crisis.


Logan Harris is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

Courts & the Law, COVID-19, News, public health, race

Congressman, State Senator talk “dire” state of COVID response, looming Supreme Court fight in town hall

“The situation is dire,” Rep. David Price (D – N.C.) told a virtual town hall Wednesday night. “I’m not going to sugar coat it in any way.”

The event, held by progressive group ActionNC, brought together Price, State Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) and progressive advocates to talk with North Carolinians about COVID-19, the future of the Supreme Court and what it means for health care and the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. David Price

“I can’t possibly overstate the magnitude of this loss,” Price said of the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling her “a giant” who left a lasting impact on the law, women’s rights and voting rights.

The push by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to replace Ginsburg less than two months before the November election is a hypocritical “power grab” that threatens the legitimacy of the court, Price said.

It also imperils the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans hope to overturn through legal challenges.

“This November the Supreme Court will hear a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act,” Price said. The outcome of that case could mean a return to patients being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, life-time caps on coverage and the loss of coverage for millions who have come to rely on it.

The rush to replace Ginsburg and constant assaults on the ACA are indicative of “the Republican Senate becoming a graveyard for so much that the country needs,” Price said.

Price and Murdock both said lawmakers — in Washington and in Raleigh — should instead be concentrating on helping Americans during an ongoing pandemic that has already claimed 200,000 lives and devastated the economy.

“North Carolina is facing billions of dollars in revenue shortfalls over the next few years,” Murdock said. “If Congress doesn’t pass a bill with significant aid soon it will force more devastating cuts to food assistance, unemployment benefits, health coverage and other support for struggling families, just when they need help the most.”

State Sen. Natalie Murdock

Price agreed, saying what’s been proposed by Republicans in Congress simply won’t get the job done.

“If they stopped to take one look around, they’d see Americans are clearing food bank shelves, facing threats of eviction and receiving unemployment benefits that don’t come close to paying the bills,” Price said. “They would see small businesses forced to close their doors as demand isn’t keeping pace. Americans can’t afford to wait or suffer any longer. They need a comprehensive relief bill, similar to the Heroes Act. And they need it now.”

Alexandra Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, said direct federal aid to people, state and local government is urgently needed.

“”Bolstering state and local infrastructure with federal funds can ensure that every community has what is needed to support families and sustain a response to COVID-19 and the economic downturn until recovery is secure,” Siota said. “North Carolina can’t afford to meet needs alone. The state has already allocated all of the previously provided federal dollars and still there are too many unmet needs, like rental and food assistance. Inaction by the Senate and White House will only extend the harm for people and prolong the downturn.”

The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center is a project of the non-profit North Carolina Justice Center, of which Policy Watch is also a part.

Black and Latinx people are most impacted by the pandemic and its economic fallout, said Mary Williams-Stover, executive director of NC Council for Women & Youth Involvement.

“The COVID pandemic is impacting everyone, but it’s not impacting us all equally,” Williams-Stover said. “All the data shows women are struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic more than men and Black women, who already faced the greatest employment and health care barriers even before COVID due to pre-existing health disparities, are significantly impacted by the pandemic.”

An April report by the Budget and Tax Center found Black people are about 22 percent of the state’s population but make up 38 percent of cases and 37 percent of COVID-infection related deaths. More than 13 percent of Black women in North Carolina are uninsured, ActionNC pointed out, making them particularly vulnerable.

The numbers for Latinx people were even more grim. They make up about 10 percent of the state’s population but 46 percent of COVID cases.

Both Price and Murdock emphasized the need for the North Carolina General Assembly to expand Medicaid in the state. Their refusal to do so has prevented North Carolinians from accessing care that would otherwise be available to them even as other Republican-led states have opted for expansion, they said.

That’s particularly dangerous during a pandemic that imperils both peoples’ health and their economic stability, Price said.

“I’ve always said – and economists of all stripes will back me up on this – the danger is never doing too much,” Price said. “The danger is doing too little.”


Trump lawyer Stefan Passantino is attorney for company that tried to infiltrate NC voter groups

Stefan Passantino (

Blue Sky Med Labs, whose “business partner” James Fortune, tried to infiltrate voting rights groups in North Carolina, is directly linked to a former Trump administration official, an Atlanta TV station reported yesterday.

Policy Watch reported last week that Blue Sky Med Labs of Roswell, Ga., had wired two payments, $3,000 and $1,500, to Democracy North Carolina. Using similar tactics to the far-right group Project Veritas, Fortune had met with several North Carolina voting rights groups and appeared to try to entrap them into breaking election laws. Fortune claimed that he planned to open a gym in North Carolina and that Blue Sky Med Labs was his business partner.

Dale Russell, a journalist with Fox5, reported that the attorney for Blue Sky Med Labs is Stefan Passantino, the former deputy White House Counsel for Ethics Policy under Donald Trump. He left the Trump administration in 2018, but was subsequently hired by the Trump Organization in January 2019 to help deal with the onslaught of Democratic inquiries into the president’s business interests.

Passantino also is among top officials for “Lawyers for Trump,” a coalition that claims to “protect the integrity” of November’s vote.

Policy Watch previously reported on Passantino’s connections to the White House and various right-wing political operatives in Georgia, including political consultant Rick Thompson. Thompson confirmed to Fox5 that Passantino was the attorney for Blue Sky Med Labs.

Thompson is also a member of the Georgia Ethics Commission.

Fox5 reported that Passantino is out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Passantino is now an attorney with the firm Michael Best & Friedrich, where he leads the political law practice. That firm is headed by former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Passantino’s biography on the firm’s website states he has “provided Congressional and Executive Branch ethics and lobbying training to members of Congress, their staff, the administration, and private corporations for over 15 years.”

He also has represented “major multi-national corporations, tax-exempt advocacy groups, political parties, and politicians, including serving as national counsel to presidential candidate and former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, former Gov. Rick Perry, several U.S. Senators and House Members, as well as other prominent political figures and advocacy groups.”

Commentary, COVID-19, News

Is this really America? New and shocking numbers on the impact of the botched virus response

Most of us are already aware of the tragic fact that more than 200,000 of our fellow Americans — more than two-thirds the number of American combat deaths in all of  WWII — are now dead as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disastrously incompetent response of the federal government. But the latest numbers from the Census Bureau remind us that the devastation from the pandemic extends well-beyond the ghastly death toll. As a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, human suffering now afflicts the nation on a truly massive and frightening scale — particularly for people of color:

Millions of households are having serious trouble affording food and are falling behind on the rent, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for September 2-14 shows. Twenty-three million adults reported that their household didn’t get enough to eat, and an estimated 1 in 4 renters with children lived in a household that was behind on rent. Also, data for August show that some 35 million people — including 9 million children — either met the federal definition of “unemployed” (which understates the actual number of jobless workers) or lived with an unemployed family member, according to Census’ latest Current Population Survey.

These data underscore the urgent need for federal policymakers to agree on further robust relief measures. The measures enacted earlier this year — such as expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus payments — mitigated hardship but were temporary and had significant shortcomings. Without a new relief package, hardship likely will rise and grow more severe, endangering children’s long-term health and educational outcomes.

Among the report’s disturbing findings:

  • About 23 million adults — 10.5 percent of all adults — reported that their household sometimes or often had “not enough to eat” in the last seven days. This was several times the pre-pandemic rate: a recent survey released by the Agriculture Department found that 3.7 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” over the full 12 months of 2019. This included 739,000 adults in North Carolina.
  • Adults in households with children were likelier to report that the household didn’t get enough to eat: 14 percent, compared to less than 8 percent for households without children.
  • Some 9 to 14 percent of adults with children reported that their children sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it, well above the pre-pandemic figure. Households typically first scale back on food for adults before cutting back on what children have to eat. (The range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the Household Pulse Survey.)
  • One in 6 adult renters — or 17 percent — reported that they lived in a household that was not caught up on rent. That translates to roughly 13 million renters after adjusting for underreporting in the Pulse survey.
  • Renters of color were more likely to report that their household was not caught up on rent: about 1 in 4 Black (25 percent) and Asian (24 percent) renters and 1 in 5 Latino (22 percent) renters said they were not caught up on rent, compared to just 1 in 9 white (12 percent) renters.
  • Households with children were twice as likely to be facing challenges paying rent than households without children. Some 25 percent of renters who are parents or otherwise live with children are not caught up on rent, compared to 12 percent of adults not living with anyone under age 18.
  • Some 35 million people either met the official definition of “unemployed” (meaning they actively looked for work in the last four weeks or were on temporary layoff) or lived with an unemployed family member in August. This figure includes 9 million children.
  • The official definition of “unemployed” leaves out some workers sidelined by the crisis, such as those who are absent from their jobs without pay and jobless workers who want to work but aren’t currently looking for work (including people who have health concerns, are sick or caring for a sick relative, or need to care for their children because school or child care is closed). If we also include the family members of these workers, as many as 61 million people, or nearly 1 in 5 people in the country, live in families with a sidelined worker.

Click here to read the full report.