Commentary

Successful woman who once received food aid decries NC’s cuts to SNAP program

There’s a great op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer highlighting North Carolina’s shameful recent decision to slash food assistance benefits (aka “SNAP”).

Jessica Murrell, who once relied on SNAP/Food Stamps during a rough patch in her life, explains:

“I never thought that I would find myself in need of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. After successfully graduating from college with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology, I was sure I would have a job in the bag.

Unfortunately, that was not my story. When I graduated in December 2007, I was also five months pregnant, and let’s just say the economy was at its worst since the 1930s. I needed a temporary lift until I could find work, and SNAP was a true lifesaver. Being able to receive help from Medicaid and SNAP allowed me to deliver a beautiful baby girl and provide the nutrition she needed as a breast-feeding mother.”

In other words, the program worked just as it was intended to. Now Murrell is a successful professional and worried that loads of potentially hungry people will not get the help she did:

“I’m deeply concerned about cuts to the program that will lead to greater food insecurity throughout our state, harming not only individuals but also local economies. Over the course of 2016, more than 100,000 North Carolinians are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits because of a provision that limits the length of time an adult without children is allowed to receive food assistance while out of work. Waivers have allowed some of our very poor neighbors who live in communities with weak labor markets to receive SNAP and weather the economic downturn, but state lawmakers permanently banned such waivers after July, and everyone faces a three-month limit.

Though the economy has certainly improved, there are still scores of men and women unable to find stable employment despite their best efforts. Of the state’s 100 counties, 89 have more people looking for work than available job openings. Eliminating the SNAP waiver will not create opportunities but will only increase economic hardship for some of our poorest neighbors.”

She’s right, of course. As analyst Tazra Mitchell explained in this space a couple weeks ago, last year’s mean-spirited SNAP cuts in North Carolina are all but sure to create thousands more hungry people in our state. These people want to work, but literally can’t find jobs or even volunteer opportunities.

The bottom line: Despite their assurances that they want more North Carolinians to work their way out of poverty like Ms. Murrell, the actions of our state leaders all but guarantee that more people will remain mired in poverty. In other words, the SNAP cuts are a matter of “business as usual” for North Carolina’s conservative political leadership.

 

Commentary

McCrory expected to sign bill targeting immigrants, food aid recipients today

McCrory budgetThe word on the street is that Gov. Pat McCrory will put an exclamation point on a dreadful year of state lawmaking today by signing the controversial bill advanced in the waning days of the 2015 session that targets immigrants and recipients of food assistance. The Governor has announced that he will conduct a bill signing ceremony at 2:30 at the Guilford County Sheriff’s office and the expectation is that he will sign House Bill 318.

This is from the October 2 edition of the Fitzsimon File:

“And while he has the veto stamp out, he should also use on it House Bill 318 that passed in the legislative session’s waning days that would punish undocumented immigrants in the state and make it harder for thousands of families to afford enough to eat.

A letter from N.C. Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier asking McCrory to veto the bill points out that it takes authority away from how local communities interact with immigrants and gives local law enforcement agencies less flexibility.  McCrory, as a long time mayor, ought to understand that.

And as Glazier wrote to the governor, the bill was passed with disturbing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the debate on the House floor, where bill supporters described North Carolina being ‘overrun by illegal immigrants.’

The bill also punishes low-income families by banning the state from continuing to apply for waivers from the federal government that allow people in economic distressed parts of the state to receive food stamp benefits.

The bill would result in 100,000 people being denied food assistance next year, regardless of the economic conditions in their communities.”

Sadly, however, it appears common sense explanations like this and the pleas of thousands who have protested the bill have gone for naught. Unless the Governor is somehow overtaken by a last minute wave of human decency and compassion, North Carolina will add two more areas to the list in which it is home to some of the nation’s worst and most heartless state laws. All in all, it’s an apt way to close the legislative year.

Commentary

NC Women United leader decries anti-immigrant legislation

Tara RomanoYesterday, Tara Romano, President of NC Women United and a regular contributor to NC Policy Watch, spoke at a rally protesting House Bill 318 — the legislation wrongfully targeting immigrants and food assistance recipients that currently sits on Gov. McCrory’s desk awaiting review.

She was kind enough to share a copy of  her remarks, which we present below:

“Buenos tardes. Me llamo Tara Romano, and I am president of North Carolina Women United. As an organization that advocates for the full equality of all women across the state, we stand with the many groups represented here in calling for Governor McCrory to veto HB318. Deceptively titled ‘The Protect North Carolina Workers Act,’ we see this bill as only protecting those who already have power, and are vested in upholding the current racist, sexist status quo.

How are we protecting North Carolina workers when we are denying people jobs and the ability to provide for themselves and their families based on their immigration status? This bill attempts to reinforce the racist lie that black and brown people are making it hard for white citizens to find jobs; when the real reason many North Carolinians can’t find jobs is because of the failed economic policies of our state leadership. Immoral and greedy employers who have taken advantage of undocumented workers desperate to care for their families aren’t interested in creating good jobs for residents of North Carolina, or for anyone; they are only interested in increasing their profits however they can, including by continuing to exploit workers who are further and further pushed to the margins of society by policies like HB318.

How are we protecting North Carolina workers and their families when we are decreasing their ability to be safe in their homes and communities? By creating additional barriers between the immigrant community and their local governments, service providers and law enforcement, we are pushing entire groups of people and families further into the shadows, leaving them vulnerable to corrupt and criminal elements that will take advantage of this second-class status to exploit and harm them.

In particular, we are concerned that the epidemic of sexual and domestic violence Read more

Commentary

Unintended consequences and more reasons for McCrory to veto House Bill 318

The Protect North Carolina Workers Act is one of the remaining piece of legislation on the governor’s desk, following the nine month session. And before deciding whether the bill should become law, Susan Ladd says Governor McCrory should consider the confusion this bill will create at the county level.

While HB 318 would impact food stamp recipients,the Greensboro News & Record columnist explains this bill would also negatively affect immigrants:

consularcard

Consular IDs would be banned under HB 318

Case in point: House Bill 318, which among other things, banned consular cards and IDs created by communities or nonprofits, such as the FaithAction IDs, as acceptable forms of identification.

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen and other registers of deed across the state are scrambling to figure out whether they are bound by the language of this bill and how they will deal with Hispanic residents seeking marriage licenses and birth certificates for their children if Gov. Pat McCrory signs it into law. The vast majority of Hispanics use — you guessed it — consular IDs to apply for both these vital documents.

“It would have a significant impact on Hispanics,” Thigpen said. “Even some Hispanics who are citizens use the consular card. The question is, to what extent are we going to deny an applicant who has an unapproved ID, who otherwise has the right to marry?”

His office conducts an average of 20 marriages each day, and Hispanics using consular cards account for several of those.

“So much time and energy was put into making consular cards a good standard of identification,” Thigpen said. “There’s been a lot of work to make sure those cards are secure and solid. If we can’t use that, what does that mean? Do we then accept your power bill? If we can’t use that, are we relying on a less-secure form of identification?”

There is no explicit guidance in existing statutes about what kind of identification the register of deeds office can accept, but most offices use a common set of guidelines. House Bill 318, however, covers “any government official,” which likely would include employees of the register of deeds.

For Thigpen, it’s another headache from a legislature that is focused more on its next election slogan — “I’m tough on immigration” — than the practical effects this bill might have.

“It was not well thought out, and there was no discussion with our folks,” Thigpen said. “We didn’t know it was coming, and haven’t had time to discuss the implications of it.”

Read more

Commentary

Unbelievable: Last minute bill would limit food assistance, expand hunger in N.C.

SNAPvote[UPDATE: This bill passed its “second reading” today and is scheduled for a final vote in the Senate next Monday.] Another “you can’t make this stuff up” bill has emerged in the final days of the 2015 state legislative session. Under an amendment tacked on to a bill originally designed to target the employment of undocumented immigrants, SNAP benefits (i.e. Food Stamps) would be made significantly harder to obtain for childless adults in struggling parts of North Carolina.

Here’s the deal:

SNAP benefits are limited under federal law to three months out of every three years for childless, non-disabled adults unless they are working at least half time, participating in a qualified job training program for 20 hours a week, or in workfare. This time limit applies regardless of whether these individuals are actually able to find employment or training opportunities.

This can obviously work a great hardship. In North Carolina, for example, 83 counties actually have more jobless workers than job openings.

Thankfully, federal allows states to suspend the time limit in areas with high unemployment. As a result, every state except Delaware has waived the time limit for at least part of their state at some point. During the recent recession, many states qualified for state-wide waivers from the time limit. Most states will have to reimpose the time limit for at least part of their state in 2016. North Carolina has already applied for a waiver for 77 of the state’s 100 counties — i.e. the ones with high unemployment rates.

Absurdly, however, under the new provision (click here and scroll to page 6) the Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from applying for a waiver, effectively reimposing the time limit even though parts of the state qualify for a waiver due to high unemployment. This unnecessarily restricts food assistance for poor childless adults in areas where the economy has not yet fully recovered.

This bill would further prevent the state from ever requesting a waiver, removing an important state response to future economic downturns.

The bottom line: If the bill becomes law, a large number of hurting North Carolinians in some of the state’s least healthy communities will lose yet another small lifeline that allows them to survive. On the day Pope Francis is receiving global accolades for calling on Americans to help the poor, North Carolina lawmakers are, once more, doing the exact opposite.

Adjournment of the 2015 session cannot come soon enough.