Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #8: addressing North Carolina’s affordable housing need

As the 2018 legislative session gets underway in earnest in this, its first full week, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Last week, Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education. Policy Prescription #5 called for tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina. Prescription #6 made the case closing the Medicaid coverage gap. Yesterday, Prescription #7 urged lawmakers to make North Carolina more worker-friendly.

Today, the focus is on tackling the issue of affordable housing. The following is from Policy Prescription #8 – “A place to call home: Addressing North Carolina’s affordable housing need”:

“Having access to affordable housing is a basic human need. Having safe, secure and reasonably priced housing enables people to engage in other basic activities such as employment, obtaining education, and maintaining their physical and mental health. Unfortunately, access to secure and affordable housing is an extreme challenge for many North Carolinians. The lack of affordable housing places a unique burden on individuals by often forcing them to choose between housing and other basic necessities. In order to effectively move the needle on affordable housing, it’s time that housing, just like food and water, be seen as a human right, not a mere commodity”

Click here to read the full report.

Commentary

ICYMI: Business, law enforcement leaders speak out for closing Medicaid coverage gap

In case you missed it, there have been two new and compelling op-eds in recent days from unlikely sources about Medicaid expansion and the ongoing critical need for North Carolina to expand it under the Affordable Care Act.

In “Closing N.C.’s health coverage gap is good for businesses and communities,” Triad businessman Don Flow says the following:

“What if I told you there was a way to add $4 billion a year to the state’s economy, create more than 40,000 jobs and provide health care to approximately 400,000 North Carolinians who don’t have it?

You would say it’s too good to be true, right?

But it is true. If the North Carolina General Assembly will support closing the health care ‘coverage gap’ in this year’s short session, we can fuel economic growth in the health care sector, save some of our rural hospitals and get back some of the tax dollars that we send to Washington.”

After listing the myriad benefits that would inure to the state — saving lives, adding jobs, saving rural hospitals — Flow closes by noting that many Republicans are finally coming around on the issue, including Rep. Donny Lambeth, primesponsor of the so-called “Carolina Cares” legislation, Flow closes like this:

“The time is right to close the coverage gap. Uncertainty over major federal changes to the health care system is now behind us.

The N.C. Medicaid program is stable and its financial predictability will increase with the transition to managed care.

With a proposal on the table, there is a path forward to address this critical issue and strengthen our economy while giving more North Carolinians access to affordable health care. It’s a good deal.”

Flow’s support for closing the Medicaid gap was echoed Monday in Raleigh’s News & Observer by another surprising voice, Nashville, NC police chief, Thomas Bashore. Chief Bashore’s plea is based on his desperate desire to attack the opioid crisis that plagues his community and so many others:

“One in five adults with an opioid use disorder, however, is uninsured. Only 20 percent of uninsured people with opioid use disorders have received outpatient treatment in the past year, barely half the rate of those with insurance. Today, more than 900,000 working-age North Carolinians do not have health insurance.

Law enforcement officers often have to take people with opioid use disorders to jail when what they really need is treatment. Having these individuals in jail instead of in treatment is the wrong use of taxpayer dollars and an inefficient use of limited law enforcement time and resources.

How do we reduce the number of uninsured people and expand access to affordable health care? One thing many states have done is allow people who are in the “coverage gap” (who are uninsured but earn too little to qualify for subsidies to afford insurance on the individual market) to enroll in Medicaid. Thirty-three red and blue states now allow people in the coverage gap to enroll in Medicaid. Closing the coverage gap would give more than 400,000 people access to affordable health insurance, including up to 150,000 with opioid use disorders and other substance use or mental health needs.”

The bottom line: Closing the coverage gap would be a life-saving, economy-boosting move and it remains a tragedy that a handful of ideologues continue to stand in the way.

Commentary

Mark Meadows, Jeff Sessions to headline event co-sponsored by John Birch Society

Congressman Mark Meadows

It’s not clear yet if either man will has fully embraced the notion that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were communists or that fluoridation was a monstrous commie plot, but both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and North Carolina Republican congressman Mark Meadows will be hanging out with extremists from the John Birch Society next month. Both men are among the group of featured speakers at a June conference to be held at Colorado Christian University entitled the “Western Conservative Summit.” Among the other shining lights on the program for the event: former Reagan administration gas bag Ed Meese and crusading anti-immigrant congressman Steve King.

The Birch Society, which, of course, came to infamy during the Cold War as an outpost for the Right’s conspiracy-minded lunatic fringe, is listed among the events sponsors along with the NRA, an anti-federal government group known as the American Lands Council and a bevy of other far right groups — not to mention Boeing Corporation and, depressingly, the Israeli tourism board.

For those who may not remember the Birch crowd, here’s a handy summary from the good folks at People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch project:

“Since its founding, the John Birch Society has been a racist clearinghouse of far-right conspiracy theories.

JBS has accused Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, Civil Rights Movement leaders and advocates of water fluoridation of advancing a communist plot…a plot that goes all the way back to the founding of the Illuminati. More recently, the group linked the Sandy Hook massacre to “the assault on white men” that includes everything “from ‘affirmative action’ to massive Third World immigration,” and attacked the GOP for turning into the “Gay Old Party.”

Jeet Heer of The New Republic writes that the Birchers’ conspiratorial nature helped set the stage for Trump’s nomination: ‘Far from belonging merely to the lunatic fringe, the Birchers were important precursors to what is now the governing ideology of the Republican Party: Trumpism. Bircherism is now, with Trump, flourishing in an entirely new way. Far from being drummed out of conservatism, it has become the dominant strain.’”

Should be quite a party. Maybe some libertarian from the crowd in attendance can at least secret Sessions off to a legal marijuana shop so that he can see his paranoia on that subject is ill-founded. Let’s hope.

Commentary

NC Policy Watch Policy Prescription #7: Boosting wages and improving leave policies for NC workers

As the 2018 legislative session gets underway in earnest in this, its first full week, we hope you will continue reading our special series “Policy Prescriptions” researched and written by A. J. Fletcher Foundation Fellow Samone Oates-Bullock. Last week, Prescription #1 addressed food insecurity in North Carolina. Prescription #2 took on the issue of early childhood investments. Prescription #3 analyzed the challenge of funding school adequately and fairly. Policy Prescription #4 called for racial equity in education. Policy Prescription #5 called for tackling the issue of environmental racism in North Carolina. Yesterday, Prescription #6 made the case closing the Medicaid coverage gap.

Today, the focus is on improving North Carolina’s treatment of workers. The following is from  Policy Prescription #7 – “Making NC worker friendly: Boosting wages and improving leave policies for NC workers”:

North Carolina’s labor force is comprised of more than six million employees in various professions, fields, and specializations. These employees are, of course, one the most valuable assets of the businesses in which they work and play a critical role in shaping today’s economy. Having happy and healthy employees is beneficial not only to the employees themselves but to society as a whole. There is, therefore, a great need for policies that ensure safe work environments, living wages, and a robust safety net for employees.

Click here to read the full report.

Commentary

Dan Forest, GOP to take credit today for school program Republicans voted against

Lt. Gov. Forest

Not that it comes as any great surprise, but Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s perpetual campaign for higher office will be in full swing today when he and some Republican politicians descend on an Alamance County high school to claim credit for connecting all of our state’s schools to high-speed broadband. The folks over at one of Forest’s chief P.R. firms — the John Locke Foundation — published an article in their Carolina Journal newsletter last Friday informing us of the plan:

“North Carolina is the first state to connect all K-12 classrooms to high-speed broadband. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will host a celebration of this achievement  Tuesday, May 22, at Graham High School.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson; Alamance-Burlington Superintendent William Harrison; Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance; and Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, will also attend.

‘Connecting all of our public school classrooms to high-speed broadband will bridge the education divide allowing opportunity for an excellent education to all public-school students,’ Forest said.

Through the School Connectivity Initiative, every public school in the state has high-speed broadband access. SCI was created in 2007 to support the enhancement of technology infrastructure in public schools. Funds were appropriated for broadband access, equipment, and support services.

While it’s great to expand broadband (indeed, one wishes Forest and his fellow conservatives would stop stonewalling plans at the General Assembly to let local municipalities do just that) there is a rather glaring omission in the Locke puff piece that deserves to be noted. It turns out that the 2007 School Connectivity Initiative mentioned in the article was a program launched by a Democratic General Assembly and the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley in the 2007 budget bill. What’s more, as can be seen here and here, every Republican legislator except for one (including Phil Berger and Tim Moore) voted against that bill.

Maybe Forest and Representatives Ross and Riddell (none of whom was serving in Raleigh in 2007) would have broken with Republican leadership at the time to vote for the Democratic budget and the investments contained in the School Connectivity Initiative, but it seems like a distinct longshot. An Internet search produced no evidence that any of the three men were critical of the “no” votes at the time.

But, of course, strange claims of credit are nothing new for Forest, a politician who, as Lt. Governor, long kept a running total on his website of jobs created in North Carolina during his tenure in office, even though he had noting of note to do with any of them.

The bottom line: Let’s hope today’s event signals that arch-conservative North Carolina Republicans are turning over a new leaf when it comes to bipartisanship and a commitment to investments in essential public infrastructure and that maybe they’ll even give Democrats the credit for launching the program they’ll be lauding today.

The advice from this corner, however, is not to hold your breath waiting for such a turnaround.