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NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the third post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the other posts here and here.

The Senate Budget proposal makes significant changes to North Carolina’s child care subsidy program, and not in a good way. In fact it kicks some families off the program. Essentially the Senate eliminates many of the best practices in child care subsidy policy, which results in making it more difficult for working families to access child care. The Child Care Subsidy program provides an opportunity for low-income working parents to access affordable and safe child care while they are supporting their family. As many parents know, child care is often the highest monthly expense for a family, with an average annual cost of full-time center care for one child at about $8,500 a year. The high cost of child care prices many low and middle income families out of the market, which could make it difficult for a parent to get and keep a job, or be forced to choose an unsafe care setting.

Enter the child care subsidy program, which currently provides families who earn less than 75% of the state median income (SMI; about 50,000 a year for a family of four) the opportunity to ensure a safe, quality child care setting for their children while they work. For some parents, the current system also provides a sliding scale for co-payments that decreases as the family size increases. While the program is extremely beneficial both in ensuring healthy early childhood development and allowing parents to work and sustain their family, the funding has been inadequate over the years, leaving over 15,000 eligible North Carolina families on a waiting list as of May, 2014, for months and even years. Read about Lex’s story from Western North Carolina whose children languished on the waiting list for over three years.

A magnifying glass is indeed needed to understand how the Senate budget changes the program because it claims to be revenue neutral and to reduce the number of children on the waiting list. So let’s take a look. The Senate changes eligibility for the program from 75% of the SMI to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($47,700 for a family of four) for children ages 0-5 years. This means that to qualify to receive subsidies you have to earn less, even though families who earn up to 75% of the SMI still often can’t afford child care. The Senate further reduces eligibility for families with children ages 6-13 years to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (about $32,000 for a family of four). The sliding scale is also eliminated, meaning that families with larger family sizes, and thus expenses, have to pay the same copay as families with smaller family sizes. Co-payments are also no longer reduced for partial day care. For some families, the changes in co-payment will price them out of the market, meaning parents could lose jobs or kids could go to unsafe care settings.

The Senate’s proposed changes to the child care subsidy program are just another example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. While they may keep the program revenue neutral, they’re kicking families out by changing eligibility and co-pay levels to do it. And the only way they’re reducing the waiting list is by eliminating those families on the waiting list who are eligible at the current levels that will no longer be eligible with a lower income eligibility threshold. They’re also decreasing state dollars by relying on more federal dollars available through block grants. It’s unclear what the associated impact will be to other block grant-funded programs. A better way forward would be to ensure that all North Carolina’s families who can’t afford care (which according to federal standards could be families earning up to 85% SMI) receive help to support their ability to work and their children’s ability to learn in the critical early years.

 

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the second post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the first post here.

State funding that helps older adults who want to stay in their home would be slashed under the Senate budget that was passed last weekend. The Senate leadership wants to cut the Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) by nearly $1 million. This move would result in cuts to non-Medicaid in-home and community-based services—such as home-delivered meals, in-home aide, and transportation assistance.

State lawmakers established the HCCBG in 1992, and it is made up of both federal and state dollars.  The Senate’s $1 million cut would be on top of a $2 million cut enacted last year as part of federal across-the-board cuts known as the sequester. HCCBG services are available to people ages 60 and older but the “average” client is nearly 80 years old and the services are well-targeted to those who are near-poor and socially needy, according to DHHS.

The Senate passed a $1 million budget cut to HCCBG services despite a waiting list of roughly 16,000 people, according to a survey conducted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The demand for these vital services is likely to keep on the uptick as the so-called graying of North Carolina continues. Meanwhile, the growing cost of delivery shows no signs in subsiding. A $1 million budget cut will only serve to push additional older adults onto the waiting list. Read More

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Yes, you read that right — Wake County Public Schools would have to eliminate nearly 700 teacher assistants this fall if the Senate’s budget plan becomes law this summer.

The county would have to cut 693 TAs out of 1,250 positions allotted for the upcoming school year, according to WNCN. The Senate’s budget offers teachers who give up their tenure an average 11 percent pay hike beginning this fall. To pay for the plan, Senate leaders decided to gut the budget for teacher assistants — a line item that has already suffered deep cuts over the past several years.

“It is a great step in the right direction to address teacher salaries,” Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner said, “but we have teacher assistant positions that are being cut.”

The school system further said it would have to reduce bus services and the number of drivers used to transport students due to a proposed cut of $2.9 million in transportation funding.

There could also be a reduction in the number of drivers education classes offered for students, the school system said.

The raises built in to the Senate budget are for teachers paid with state money. Wake Schools said it would cost the school system $13 million to provide raises to any teachers paid with local funding.

Wake Schools cautioned that providing local raises could mean additional personnel cuts.

Cumberland County Schools has reported it would have to cut 220 out of its 330 teacher assistant positions — and that comes on top of cutting 100 positions they have already slashed for the upcoming year.

Some counties use TA funds to pay teachers’ salaries as well. In Stokes County, the Senate budget plan would mean cutting eight teaching positions in addition to 30 TAs.

Members of the House have reviewed the Senate and Governor’s budgets and plan to have their budget on the floor by the end of this week.

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the first post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. 

There would be 70 fewer school nurses in North Carolina’s public education program under the Senate budget, even though the statewide average nurse-to-student ratio has been far below national standards for at least a decade. In addition to this 30 percent cut to the School Nurse Funding Initiative, the Senate budget would shift the remaining 166 nurses to the state’s most economically lagging counties, known as Tier 1 counties.

Apparently, the Division of Public Health “asked” for this cut in response to the Governor’s directive to cut spending by 2 percent, per the comments made today by the Fiscal Research Division staff. Senate budget writers factored agencies’ responses to the Governor into their budget proposal.  Again, this is just another decision by leadership that makes clear the harmful choices that must be made when policymakers reduce the availability of revenue—which is what occurred when lawmakers passed last year’s tax plan that drains available revenue for public investments.

There is a mountain of research that shows that health and education go hand in hand. That’s why the state instituted comprehensive school health services in public schools, per the state Division of Public Health: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The North Carolina Senate passed their budget just past mid-night, in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The Senate budget puts into clear perspective the high price ordinary North Carolinians will have to pay for last year’s tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations. Despite progress in some areas, the proposal leaves too many vital public services operating at diminished levels—failing to catch up with the needs of kids, working families, and communities five years into the official economic recovery. Our overview of the Senate budget can be read here.

State spending under the Senate budget would be 6 percent, or $1.4 billion, below the last budget that was enacted before the Great Recession, adjusting for inflation. Yet, there are more students to educate, citizens to serve and protect, and older adults to help care for.

Due to tax changes enacted last year, budget writers are now dealing with the consequences of a self-imposed budget challenge. State lawmakers created a structural deficit in which revenues are falling short of what is needed to meet critical needs across budget areas. The state is facing a revenue shortfall of $191 million in the 2015 fiscal year (not to be confused with the nearly half-a-billion shortfall for the current 2014 fiscal year that ends in June).

The driver of these revenue shortfalls—despite an economic recovery—is the series of tax cuts that lawmakers approved and Governor McCrory signed into law last year that will drain available revenues to the tune of $437.8 million in the 2015 fiscal year. As we reported earlier this month, estimates suggest that the revenue losses from the tax plan, particularly stemming from the personal income tax changes, could reach $600 million in next fiscal year.

It is important to put these revenue losses into the context of foregone public investments that are the building blocks of a strong economy, as the table below does. Read More