The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that North Carolina health officials successfully cleared a backlog of food stamps cases that had been in the tens of thousands last year following issues with a statewide technology system.

At stake was $88 million in federal funding, which USDA, which oversees the national SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), said it would consider rescinding if the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services didn’t quickly clear the backlog.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.12.16 AMYou could tell this story in any one of the most rural counties in North Carolina. From the Wilkes Journal-Patriot in a stunning story yesterday:

Over half of the 898 people who contacted a temporary counselor in Wilkes County for help in signing up for health insurance during the first federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period didn’t qualify.

Most of these 512 people unable to get insurance with reduced premiums through the ACA didn’t qualify because their incomes were below the federal poverty level, said Wilkes Health Department Director Ann Absher. Minimum annual income for a single person to qualify is $11,490. It’s $23,550 for a family of four.

Here at the NC Justice Center we hear similar stories every time we go to the more rural parts of our state. Most recently we heard the difficulty health assisters have in Beaufort County when they have to tell people they are “too poor” to get coverage.  It’s easy for Governor Pat McCrory and some NC legislators to be glib about why they refused the billions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  But I’d like to require them to have to personally answer the poor, hardworking folks they denied health coverage to this year. Maybe then they wouldn’t be smiling quite so broadly as they are in the photo below.

Medicaid bill sign2 - Version 2

As reported today in the Charlotte ObserverState Board of Education chairman William Cobey along with State Superintendent June Atkinson have gone on the record to say that the state’s charter schools, which are public, should disclose the salaries of all their employees — a reversal of a March announcement by top education officials who said that charter schools are not obligated to make salaries public.

“Public charter schools should disclose how they spend all tax dollars, including salaries paid,” N.C. Board of Education Chairman William Cobey said in a recent email.

“Charter schools are set up and organized as public schools. Therefore I believe salaries are to be open to the public for review,” state Superintendent June Atkinson said Monday.

Last month, a DPI spokeswoman said that because a charter school’s employees are employed by a private, nonprofit board, they shouldn’t be subject to the same public records law that public schools must comply with.

That statement was at odds with the conclusion of the special counsel for the N.C. General Assembly, who said charter schools must disclose salaries.

Chairman Cobey and Atkinson plan to send a letter to all charter schools next week, informing them of their duty to disclose salaries of all of their staff.

Read the full Observer story here.

As was noted in yesterday’s Weekly Briefing, “A Tax Day sermon,” it can be a fascinating exercise to briefly contemplate just how far to the right American politics have been pushed in the last few decades as a result of the influx of big corporate money.

“In 2014, the United States is a place: in which a deranged Nevada cattle herder named Cliven Bundy can defy federal law and be transformed overnight into a far right celebrity, in which the party of Lincoln in one of the stronghold union states of the Civil War can vote to explore secession, in which conservative religious groups who claim to follow the teachings of a humble and un-propertied carpenter can champion tax cuts for the rich and in which North Carolina — one of the old confederate states that has made such great headway in escaping its dreadful and reactionary past – can roll back several decades of painstaking progress toward modernity in as many months.”

Here’s another rather amazing indicator: the nation’s disastrous abandonment of the settled meaning of the Second Amendment. In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” (an excerpt of which appeared recently in the Washington Post) retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (a 1975 Ford appointee) proposes returning the Second Amendment to its long-settled meaning by adding five words (italicized below) so that it would read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

Stevens’ proposal makes obvious sense and the fact that we would have to go to such trouble shows just how far out of hand things have gotten. Here’s another amazing indicator from Stevens’ book of our mass, national departure from common sense: a quote Stevens attributes to former Chief Justice Warren Burger — another conservative Republican. This is from Stevens’ book:

“When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on ‘The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,’ Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment ‘has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.’” (Emphasis supplied).

To which all a caring and thinking person can add is: “Amen (and amend).”

In North Carolina, a singular focus on comparing the state’s income tax rates to other states was used to justify massive rate reductions in the 2013 tax plan.  But do tax rates determine whether a state is competitive?

It turns out that income tax rates do not indicate competitiveness of a state’s tax code for two reasons:

  1. The vast majority of people and business make decisions based on other factors
  2. Tax credits and deductions mean that few pay the full income tax rate. Read More