NC Budget and Tax Center, TANF 20 Years Later

Twenty years later, TANF does little to relieve poverty and hardship

This blog is the second post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.

TANF does little today to help families make ends meet or to connect them to work to reduce their need for supports—thus violating the purported intention of the 1996 welfare law to move people off welfare to work. Known as WorkFirst in North Carolina, TANF is a cautionary tale, not a model, for lifting families out of poverty.  Below are the top three reasons why.

1. WorkFirst provides a safety net for fewer families who are poor, despite increased need. Just 8 out of 100 North Carolina families with kids living below the federal poverty line benefit from the program today, as opposed to 74 out of 100 when the law was first enacted (known as the TANF-to-poverty ratio; see the chart below). There are only seven states with a lower ratio. In other words, cash assistance through TANF is simply inaccessible in North Carolina.

In fact, WorkFirst failed to cushion families against deep spikes in unemployment during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The TANF-to-poverty ratio either stayed flat or fell every year since the 2007 downturn. Since 2006-07, nearly 50,000 more families with children live in poverty, but caseloads dropped by more than 36 percent. One would expect, at minimum, for the cash assistance program to respond modestly to meet the surge in poverty, but WorkFirst failed completely to react and left a lot of needy families without the basics. Read more


Charter advocate calls for class-action lawsuit against North Carolina counties over funding

Former N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon

Former N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon

Marcus Brandon—former Democratic representative in the N.C. General Assembly, Guilford County resident, and, through the group Carolina CAN, a staunch advocate for school choice in North Carolina—admits he only achieved two of his top three goals in this year’s legislative session.

The so-called “achievement school district” model, a controversial means for charter takeovers of a handful of low-performing schools, is now law. So is a mammoth expansion of the state’s publicly-funded voucher program, which pays to allow low-income children to attend private schools.

But when it comes to charter school funding, a frequent rallying cry for advocates who say charters are being short-changed, Brandon points out Republican-backed legislation opening up more coffers of public funds to charters stalled in a legislative committee in June.

Now, Brandon is promising to be “more forceful” on this issue in the coming months. He started Monday, during a presentation before the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, by suggesting charter-backers should file a class-action lawsuit against every county in North Carolina to collect more cash from public coffers.

“This is money that charters are owed,” said Brandon, who frequently breaks with the state’s Democratic party when it comes to education issues.

As Policy Watch reported this year, proponents such as Brandon say charters, which are publicly funded but are granted greater flexibility in curriculum than traditional public schools, are not being funded properly.

This year’s legislation sought to open up more funds for charters, including grants, gifts and sales tax revenues that charters are legally excluded from receiving in North Carolina.

The bill was met with skepticism from both Republican and Democratic leaders in the legislature, with some pointing out that the bill would have allowed charters to collect on school lunch funding grants despite the fact that charters are not required to provide lunches to their students.

Still, Brandon said Monday that he believes there’s a “good chance” charter supporters win out in their annual funding war with traditional public schools.

Monday’s presentation was made mostly to conservative advocates in the state and a handful of members of the media.

At one point Monday, Brandon blamed Democrats and public school supporters for failing to understand the root causes of poverty and the “cultural issues” in low-performing districts. For instance, he said black students “don’t want to come to school (as early as) 7:30 a.m.”

“Black people are different,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Read more


Texas judge’s decision should have no impact on HB2 lawsuit

NO-HB2A decision this morning by a conservative federal district court judge in Texas purporting to enjoin the Obama administration from implementing directives to aid transgender students in the public schools should have no impact on the HB2 lawsuit that currently sits in the courtroom of another conservative federal judge here in North Carolina.

As AP reported earlier today:

“A federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

In a temporary injunction signed Sunday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the federal education law known as Title IX ‘is not ambiguous’ about sex being defined as ‘the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.’…

The federal government issued the mandate days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch likened that law to the policies of racial segregation. Republicans have argued such laws are commonsense privacy safeguards.”

Happily, however, the ruling should not endanger the ongoing challenge to North Carolina’s infamous HB2 law that is currently pending before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem.

This is from the folks at the ACLU of North Carolina, who are helping to spearhead that ligation:

“We are disappointed by this ruling in Texas, but the decision does not change our clients’ ongoing legal challenge to North Carolina’s House Bill 2. In fact, the district court in Texas expressly recognized that its decision should not interfere with other pending federal court cases on this issue. HB2 continues to harm our clients and all transgender North Carolinians, and we are looking forward to a decision on our request to have the anti-transgender provisions of this law blocked while our case proceeds.”


In lambasting the left over Jeffrey Warren, Senator Phil Berger forgets about the conservative hires in higher ed

Senate President Phil Berger

Senate President Phil Berger

Senate leader Phil Berger is miffed. He can ram through legislation and help orchestrate a GOP takeover of the General Assembly, but he can’t seem to get his friends hired at UNC.

Last week, NCPW reported extensively on Berger’s science adviser, Jeffrey Warren, and his bid to lead a UNC environmental think tank — the North Carolina Collaboratory — which was created by the legislature and funded with taxpayer money. Over the past five years, Warren has wielded enormous power in the General Assembly and crafted legislation that weakens environmental regulations. Warren’s pedigree and legislative track record have alarmed both UNC faculty and environmental advocates about the true intent of the collaboratory.

Neither Berger nor Warren responded to interview requests for that story, but in an article in Sunday’s News & Observer, Berger, a Republican from Eden, complained that, “on several occasions I have recommended highly qualified conservative candidates for positions at UNC and within the university system, and to my knowledge, none have been hired to date.”

But Berger doesn’t need to wedge his chosen ones into UNC jobs. Although uber-conservative millionaire Art Pope unsuccessfully bid for a seat on the UNC Board of Governors in 1995, under a Democrat-controlled legislature, since then he has injected public education and state government with a full dose of conservatism. Through the John William Pope Foundation, Art Pope, who also served as Gov. McCrory’s former deputy budget director, has given at least $775,000 to the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program, a joint curriculum between UNC and Duke.

The foundation has chipped in at least another $1 million for N.C. State University’s program, the Economic, Legal and Political Foundations of Free Societies and the Society for Politics, Economics and the Law, a student organization. Roy Cardato, the vice president for research and resident scholar at the John Locke Foundation — another Pope venture — served as the society’s faculty advisor.

Foundation money also helped fund two courses at N.C. State: Cordato taught the undergraduate course “the Political Economy of the Market Process.” Professor Andy Taylor, who also contributes to the Pope-funded publication, the Carolina Journal, taught “Public Choice and Political Institutions,” which examines the U.S. electoral system.

It’s true that conservative attempts to buy their way into public education have been thwarted. In 2004, the Pope Foundation offered to donate $10 million to UNC to create an undergraduate program in Western cultures; faculty bristled at accepting the money from such an ideologically driven organization. The offer was declined because of the potential that the money would come with conditions on the curriculum.

And in 2011, N.C. Central University rebuffed a $600,000 offer by the Pope-affiliated N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law to create a similar organization at the law school.

In the N&O, Berger also lashed out at “faculty leaders” and “special interest groups,” for allegedly protecting “blatantly discriminatory hiring practices by publicly attacking and disparaging a rumored candidate through the press in what appears to be a clear warning that if you want a taxpayer-funded job in academia, you will only receive a fair shake if you toe the line from the left.”

Berger’s statements make sense only if you have a short memory or just got to town. In 2015, the UNC Board of Governors — stacked with Republican appointees including Steven Long, a former board member of Civitas, another Pope think tank — shut down three UNC system academic centers for purely partisan reasons. Unlike the proposed collaboratory, which the legislature funded with a $1 million appropriation in the state budget, none of these centers received direct taxpayer funding :

  • The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill, which was headed by Gene Nichol, a frequent and outspoken critic of Republican policies;
  • the Center for Biodiversity at Eastern Carolina University, which sponsored science-based symposia, including the impact of climate change on biodiversity. (Warren was the architect behind a bill that narrowly defined how coastal scientists could measure sea level rise in North Carolina.)
  • the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change, at N.C. Central, a historically black university in Durham. In 2008, the institute helped boost voter turnout to 90 percent in the precinct — predominantly African-American — that includes NCCU.

In retrospect, the shuttering of the NCCU group aligned with the Republican attempts to disenfranchise African-Americans through more restrictive voting laws that govern photo ID, same-day registration and early voting. Those requirements have recently been overturned by the federal court on constitutional grounds.

Berger’s incendiary statements are not unusual. The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy — which has influenced Republican funding priorities for the UNC system, once quoted Berger, in his criticism of state Senator Marc Basnight’s control over the selection of Board of Governors, as saying, “Joseph Stalin would be proud.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

Recovery held back by fiscal austerity

To hear it told this election season, North Carolina’s recovery is something to behold.  Nevermind the evidence that employment levels remain depressed and hardship high. Researchers from the Economic Policy Institute released a study this weekend that suggests that were it not for the policy choices North Carolina policymakers have made (and their Congressional counterparts), North Carolina would have experienced a far more robust a recovery.

The analysis looks at various measures of the strength of the economic recovery to demonstrate the relatively slow performance compared to prior economic expansions nationally.  Josh Bivens, author and economist with the Economic Policy Institute, then turns to an analysis of public spending, which in a downturn serves an important role in filling in the gap between where employment and output should be and where it is.

And yet, the graph below from the analysis shows that cutting spending was the actual response post-2010, slowing the pace of recovery.  From Bivens:

[The graph] shows the growth in per capita spending by federal, state, and local governments following the troughs of the four recessions. Astoundingly, per capita government spending in the first quarter of 2016—27 quarters into the recovery—was nearly 3.5 percent lower than it was at the trough of the Great Recession. By contrast, 27 quarters into the early 1990s recovery, per capita government spending was 3 percent higher than at the trough, 23 quarters following the early 2000s recession (a shorter recovery) it was 10 percent higher, and 27 quarters into the early 1980s recovery it was 17 percent higher.


Bivens concludes that: “If government spending following the Great Recession’s end tracked spending that followed the recession of the early 1980s for the first 27 quarters, governments in 2015 would have been spending an additional trillion dollars in that year alone, translating into several years of full employment.”

The full piece is worth a read here.