NC Budget and Tax Center

The September local employment numbers highlight the persistent jobs challenge that North Carolina faces. At a time when local economies across North Carolina continue to experience the realities of an uneven recovery that has yet to return to pre-recession conditions, Governor McCrory will likely sign a bill today that will further negatively impact our state’s workers and families.

The expected signing of HB 318 means that the time limit on food assistance will go into effect  for 77 counties that qualify for a waiver due to weak labor market conditions. This could result in up to 105,000 childless North Carolinians losing food assistance, driving up demand at local pantries and holding back consumer spending in local groceries.

The latest labor market data show just how damaging the timing of HB 318 could be. All but one metropolitan area and the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s 100 counties still have more people looking for work than before the economic collapse in 2007. This trend highlights the persistent jobs challenge North Carolina faces – more people desire to work than are jobs available to meet this demand for employment.

“There is a persistent narrative when assessing local labor market conditions in North Carolina. The recovery has been uneven and is bypassing a lot of people who live in both rural and urban areas,” said Cedric Johnson, Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “In light of the labor market news, it is still clear that there are too few jobs for all who want to work in North Carolina.  Moreover, there are also too few skills training opportunities for those who seek retraining for new careers.”

Key findings from the county data include:

  • Only 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have reached the 5 percent threshold for unemployment that many economists view as full employment.
  • The number of people looking for work is still higher in 81 counties than it was before the recession.
  • 65 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 16 counties actually lost jobs over the last year.

Key findings from the metropolitan data include:

  • 8 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas have added jobs since the start of the Great Recession. However, the number of people looking for work has grown much faster in every metropolitan area except one (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton) during that period.
  • In 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas, the increase in the number of people looking for work is more than 20 percent higher than pre-recession levels.
  • Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton is the only metro area to experience a decline in labor force (2.8 percent), number of employed workers (2.8), and number of workers looking for work (3 percent) since the start of the Great Recession.
NC Budget and Tax Center

The General Assembly used a few of the last hours of the 2015 session to cut back how long unemployed North Carolinians in economically distressed counties can receive food assistance. Even though this weeks’ labor market data show that 9 out of 10 counties have more out of work people than job openings, the new rule would cut unemployed people off regardless of how hard it is to find work. The change could take food off more than 100,000 tables across North Carolina, and will pull money out of already struggling local economies, a doubly bad deal.

The one-sentence provision in the ratified bill (see section 16.a) permanently prevents the state from seeking to extend food assistance for people who can’t find work in their local economies, except in times of emergency. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows states to temporarily waive a three-month time limit for unemployed childless adults who live in areas where few jobs are available.77 waiver counties - Updated for Blog Post

Recognizing that cutting off food aid to areas where there aren’t enough jobs hurts entire local economies, North Carolina sought this waiver for 77 of our 100 counties earlier this year. If the Governor signs this measure and SB119 into law, the ban on the waiver would go into effect in July 2016. Without the modest support of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), between 85,000 and 105,000 North Carolinians would be subject to the three month-time limit and potentially will not be able to purchase food at their local grocery stores, depressing consumer demand further and driving use of food banks already stretched to capacity. Read More

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


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.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Food assistance for vulnerable communities would be slashed deeply under budget resolutions that the US House and Senate budget committees approved last week. The cuts would likely increase hunger, thrust more people into poverty, and push families that are poor even deeper into poverty. Considering that North Carolina has the 5th highest level of food insecurity in the nation, the proposals would deliver a huge blow to North Carolinians living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to provide food to their families.

Under the House plan, the SNAP program—formerly known as food stamps—would be block-granted and cut by at least $125 billion, or one-third, between 2021 and 2025, according to experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). There is some flexibility in terms of how states would be able to carry out the deep funding cuts. If states decided to rely solely on benefits cuts, the average SNAP recipient would face a $55 per month cut in food assistance. For a family of 4 that cut is about $200 a month—or worth about one-quarter of a very low-cost meal plan. States could also turn to eligibility cuts and reduce income limits to achieve the cuts. Either way, cuts of this magnitude will bring harm to families, children, and other vulnerable groups.

North Carolina would lose at least $3.8 billion in food aid over those five years. That would force North Carolina policymakers to make some very difficult decisions about whose food assistance to reduce or terminate, impacting many Tar Heel families who already find it difficult to pay the bills and meet their most basic needs. Read More