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Workers carrying banana peppers at Kenda Farms 2003 (PBP)Not surprisingly, it was Gene Nichol’s regular contribution to Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shines a light on the General Assembly’s cold and shoddy decision to punish poor people by slashing the state’s already inadequate Legal Aid budget.

As is so often the case with conservative attacks on Legal Aid, this year’s budget cut was pretty clearly driven by agribusiness, which can’t abide the idea of farmworkers occasionally winning cases against growers who treat them like, well, dirt. Here’s Nichol:

“Sen. Brent Jackson of Autryville, one of the powerful appropriation chairs, led the charge to end funding. Jackson is the Senate’s only mega-farmer. Having benefited mightily from agribusiness contributions, he has quickly become their standard bearer. Jackson carries no affection for LANC. A couple of its lawyers have had the gall to win cases on behalf of poor farmworkers in Eastern North Carolina. So Jackson saw the rare opportunity, in a single stroke, to both line the pockets of rich Tar Heels and restrict the effective rights of those working in the fields. A win-win if ever there were one.

As a result, Hausen has been forced in recent weeks to lay off 48 lawyers and paralegals – from a staff of about 350. If cuts passed by the U.S. House become law later this year, he’ll have to eliminate 50 more. Legal aid lawyers carry famously high caseloads and enjoy famously low salaries. One of the most efficient anti-poverty programs in North Carolina is, as we speak, being markedly decimated.

This is hardly an auspicious time to gut legal services.

Given the explosion of poverty that has occurred here since 2008, now 23 percent of Tar Heels, over 2.2 million, qualify for legal services under federal guidelines. The marker is set at 125 percent of the poverty threshold – or about $29,000 for a family of four. Half of legal aid clients make less than $15,000 a year.”

But, of course, such numbers mean little to elected officials who’ve been ignoring similar figures for years. As Nichol puts it:

“We have also said, repeatedly, that we won’t allow important rights to be lost without providing a meaningful hearing, at a meaningful time, in a meaningful manner. But, for poor North Carolinians, when we say that, we lie.”

It’s getting to be a habit for state leaders.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center, News

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Alma Adams of the 12th District penned a letter urging Governor McCrory to veto a bill that would unnecessarily restrict food aid for childless adults who are very poor and live in areas where jobs are scarce—regardless of how hard they are looking for work.Adams_McCrory

States can temporarily suspend work-related time-limits on federal food aid for areas with sustained high levels of unemployment. North Carolina officials applied for a waiver in July for 77 of the state’s 100 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available that hampers North Carolinians’ ability to meet the work requirements. The bill, however, would permanently ban the Governor from ever pursuing this option irrespective of how local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist.

Between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed childless adults in North Carolina would lose food aid in 2016 if the Governor signs this bill into law.* See this map of where they live.

“House Bill 318 is [a] significant step backwards for supporting the hungry as they look for work,” wrote Congresswoman Adams. “All this bill does is punish people in high unemployment areas and limits the state’s ability to meet the needs of the unemployed,” she continued.

Congresswoman Adams is part of a growing chorus of voices calling upon the governor to veto this measure, including the NC Justice Center, the NC NAACP, and the state Legislative Black Caucus. Governor McCrory has until October 30th to veto or sign the bill, which will become law if he takes no action.

See Representative Adams’ letter to the Governor below.

Adams_Letter

*Special data request to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. September 2015.

News

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has ticked upwards, a slight setback in the state that once had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

The state’s 2014 rate was 7.1 deaths of babies in their first year for every 1,000 live births, according to information released Monday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 860 infants died in North Carolina during 2014 before their first birthday.

That’s up from the 7 deaths for every 1,000 live births the state had from 2010 to 2013, the lowest the state’s rate has ever been.

But the data shows the state continues to have significant differences in how babies fared from different racial and ethnic groups, with death rates rising in the Latino and African-American populations while dropping for white and Native American babies. (Click here to access chart on racial breakdowns).

Graphic from Washington Post

Graphic from Washington Post

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate is higher than the U.S. average of 6 deaths per 1,000 births, while the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

A 2014 chart from the Washington Post shows just how far the United State lags behind many countries, largely European, when it comes to how  infants fare.

Here in North Carolina, black babies continued to face worse outcomes than their white, Latino and Native American peers, and the infant mortality rate increased to 12.8 deaths for every 1,000 births of African-American children after years of declines.

Latino infants, who have had some of the lowest mortality rates in the state for years, had an alarming 68 percent jump in the mortality rate, from 3.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.2 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2014.

 

There were also geographical differences in the North Carolina data, with counties in the eastern part of the state (many of which also have the highest poverty rates in the state) exhibiting higher rates of infant deaths than found elsewhere.

From DHHS:

Infant Mortality by NC Policy Watch

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina is the fifth hungriest state in the nation. Yet, the state Senate gave tentative approval to a bill that unnecessarily restricts food aid for childless adults who are very poor and live in areas where jobs are scarce—regardless of how hard they are looking for work.

States can temporarily suspend work-related time-limits on federal food aid for areas with sustained high levels of unemployment. North Carolina officials applied for a waiver in July for 77 of the state’s 100 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available that hampers North Carolinians’ ability to meet the work requirements (see map below). The Senate measure, however, would permanently ban the state from pursuing this option irrespective of how local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist.

Between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed childless adults in North Carolina would lose food aid in 2016 because they can’t find a job if legislators prohibit the Governor’s administration from seeking a new waiver.*   Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Economic hardship persisted at high levels in the nation and North Carolina in 2014, according to new figures released today from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). The 2014 national poverty rate remained flat at 14.8 percent and still well-above pre-recession levels five years into the official economic recovery. There were 46.7 million Americans living below the official federal poverty line, which was $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four in 2014.

In the Washington Post today, Jared Bernstein—a well-respected national economist—explained that poverty is stuck high despite economic growth because the gains of economic growth are accruing mainly to top earners:

“Clearly, the improving economy and falling unemployment have yet to adequately lift the living standards of middle- and low-incomes. The census data show that almost 3 million more people were working year-round in 2014 than in 2013, yet real median earnings were unchanged for both men and women. Poverty remains higher and median incomes lower than before the recession, and this pattern — taking longer in the upturn to make up the losses from the downturn — seems dangerously embedded in the economy.

What explains this economic disconnect between growth, income and prosperity? While longer-term trends — globalization, technology, the absence of full employment, low bargaining power for many workers — have been in play for decades now, in recent years, fiscal policy has been insufficiently supportive of growth, and, in our age of increased income inequality, it takes longer for expansions to reach middle and low-income households.”

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