The Social Services portion of the budget is an opportunity for legislators to direct their attention to North Carolinians who need support to make ends meet. These are often children, families, and workers who, despite their hard work and due to no fault of their own, still need a helping hand. The proposed House budget fails to fulfill the promise the state has to help meet the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable individuals. Rather than bold and innovative investments, the budget merely strings along our meager system of social supports.
Here are several key highlights:
- The NC Pre-K waitlist is eliminated. The House matches the investment in the Governor’s recommended budget which seeks to eliminate the NC Pre-K waitlist. By providing $36 million over two years, the budget will create an additional 4,700 spots for children from low-income households to access high quality early education. NC Pre-K is proven to increase the educational outcomes of children and is a critical tool in eliminating inter-generational poverty. While an important step, this investment does not address the total number of children from low-income families who are eligible for Pre-K, but not represented on the waiting list. Moreover, the dollars used to pay for these slots are federal TANF dollars which have identified for significant reductions in President Trump’s budget. A real sustainable investment in our children would ensure that high quality Pre-K is accessible to every child in North Carolina and not subject to federal uncertainty.
- The budget preserves Categorical Eligibility. The House takes an important stance on food insecurity by choosing to keep categorical eligibility, a critical program which the Senate budget sought to eliminate . Maintaining this program, which costs the state nothing, will provide food assistance to 133,000 North Carolinians, 51,000 of whom are children. In addition to providing critical food assistance, keeping categorical eligibility will ensure that NC Food Nutrition Administrative costs stay down.
- The House invests in the foster care system but not in strengthening families. The House budgets invest $2.7 million in order to support the growing caseload of children in foster care, $3 million in foster care placement, and another $1.5 million for youth ages 17-21 that are transitioning out of foster care. Additionally, $18.2 million is allocated to implementing the Child Welfare Improvement Plan, which provides professional development for child welfare professionals, expands in- and out-of-the-home services, and provides post-placement support services. These investments help to ensure that children in the foster care system receive the support that they need. This investment, however, doesn’t take a full view of the challenges. The House fails to make investments that are critical to helping to keep families together in the first place. Investments in child abuse prevention, poverty reduction, and programs that give parents the tools they need remain underfunded.
- The budget subjects important state programs to federal uncertainty. The House budget eliminates state funding ($2.7 million) to counties for social services by using federal Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funding, which is slated for elimination under President Trump’s budget. The SSBG funds programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Child Advocacy Centers, the Child Medical Evaluation Program, Mental Health Service, guardianship for elder adults, and a host of other services. President Trump’s proposed budget eliminates many key sources of federal funding to the state included the Community Services Block Grant and significantly reduces others such as the TANF Block Grant.  Under federal uncertainty, it is more important than ever that North Carolina legislators use state dollars to maintain and improve programs and services that are important to North Carolinians.
Brian Kennedy II is a Public Policy Fellow with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.