From the battle to preserve American democracy to charter school chaos: The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Experts say Black lawmakers are sure to lose seats under new NC legislative maps

2. Former Three Rivers principal describes chaos at charter school, which state plans to close

7. The inflation blame game: Five important facts to keep in mind

The subject of inflation has been on many tongues in the public policy world of late – especially as Republican politicians comb every nook and cranny of the news cycle for topics with which to launch broadsides at the Biden administration.

In November, North Carolina Congressman Ted Budd – a candidate for Richard Burr’s soon-to-be-available U.S. Senate seat – introduced a snarky bill that would “require all personnel in the Biden White House to complete a financial literacy course focused on inflation.”

More recently, Sen. Thom Tillis has echoed this familiar conservative refrain by issuing a statement blaming the surge in prices over the past year on the Biden administration’s “out-of-control spending.”

Not surprisingly, both attacks are, in the immortal words of the iconic baseball commentator Bob Uecker in the film “Major League,” “just a bit outside.” [Read more…]

8. MLK Day numbers: The battle to preserve American democracy

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Commentaries:

Click here for the latest podcasts from PW Director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:


E.R. physician: Vaccine mandates have always faced resistance…and saved lives

An 1806 work from English physician Robert John Thornton included an illustration of the theory that cowpox injections might lead women to have sex with bulls and produce half-cow offspring. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

Health care professionals had high hopes that rapid vaccination of our entire U.S. population would slow COVID-19 transmission and stem the disproportionately high death count in the United States. We also hoped to avoid more concerning mutations that are inevitable when viruses multiply unchecked.

I lost my mother to COVID-19 in November of 2020, less than two months before the vaccine became available. Last spring, I checked in with my mother’s youngest brother in Oregon. He had questions about the new vaccines which had kept him from getting vaccinated. I tried to reassure him about the history, safety, and effectiveness of each of the vaccines. I described my own positive experience getting a two-shot vaccination as part of the early rollout to healthcare workers. However, he preferred to do some more investigating before committing to vaccination.

Despite impressive data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations, only 63% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and a smaller percentage has been boosted. A year after the vaccine rollout we find ourselves in the midst of the highest COVID-19 transmission rates and hospitalization numbers since the start of the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy rates are still as high as 25% in certain regions of the country.

This past September, I got a 6 a.m. call from Oregon and was numb as my uncle informed me that he and my aunt had contracted COVID and had just transferred to hospital beds from the Emergency Department.

He apologized for his muffled voice as he talked to me through a breathing machine and reported his oxygen saturation was just 45% when he arrived in the ED. He joked and asked if I might be willing to come to Oregon for a house call. My aunt was able to return home on oxygen after a few days in the hospital, but four days after that phone call my uncle was gone.

I wept when my aunt called me with the news.

A cowpox vaccine certificate issued to Ole Olsen, the great-great-grandfather of the author, in Sweden in 1832.

Vaccine hesitancy is not new. It has been around for as long as there have been vaccines. It is born out of the most basic and rational thought one can have about life and health: “Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Will this vaccine help me or my loved ones survive?”

However, we know that decisions we make about our health aren’t purely rational. We smoke and drink too much. We eat too much and spend too much time idle, all the while knowing these decisions are at odds with good sense and our health.

We are easy prey to fear and emotional arguments that distract us from data, and smear the character or personality of vaccines as if they were persons to be debated or despised instead of a 225 year-old proven tool of survival.

The first vaccine was found through observation of a natural process. In the late 1700s in England where smallpox was the greatest cause of untimely death, Dr. Edward Jenner saw that milkmaids previously infected with cowpox were immune to smallpox.

Trading the discomfort of a mild illness and a few cowpox on an arm proved much safer than getting smallpox. Before that first vaccination existed, about a quarter of all children died before their first birthdays, many from infectious diseases that are now preventable. No country had a life expectancy of more than 40 years old. Since then, the average human lifespan has doubled, largely thanks to vaccines.

In 1796 as Jenner distributed his cowpox vaccination the rational question of improved survival was answered, but distractions from this answer had just begun. Some argued political and religious calamities would ensue; others proclaimed that half-cow babies would be the inevitable result. Amid all the loud angry distractions and emotional outrage expressed against smallpox vaccination, the reality was that it saved lives and kept infected people from easily causing new outbreaks.

We continue to live in such a world where emotion and fear distract our rational inclination to survive. Read more

Expansion in Gulf of Mexico drilling splits U.S. House panel along party lines

Agriculture secretary pressed about pandemic relief funds for farmers

NC agrees to phase out support for programs that pay people with disabilities below minimum wage

Kevin Bizzell works two jobs, one in a cafe making legal minimum wage, the other in a program making below minimum wage. (Courtesy Disability Rights NC)

Jobs that often have people with developmental disabilities working for less than minimum wage will be phased out over the next four years in North Carolina.

Disability rights groups announced Thursday that they reached an agreement with the state Department of Health and Human Services that will result in the state ending financial support for what’s called sheltered workshops. These are places where only people with disabilities work, often for far below minimum wage. DHHS will instead focus money on services that will help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities work in outside jobs that pay at least minimum wage, called competitive integrated employment.

Disability Rights North Carolina and the Center for Public Representation have been working on the agreement since 2020, representatives said.

DHHS knows of nearly 1,000 people in programs of the kind that will be phased out, the agreement says. DHHS will help groups that run sheltered workshops convert to supporting people working in outside jobs.

Beginning July 1 of this year, no new people will go into sheltered workshops.

By July 1, 2023, people working in them will have an employment assessment, and everyone who wants an outside job will have a career development plan.

Sheltered workshop employment will end on July 1, 2026.

As sheltered workshops are phased out, there will be a “significant expansion of supported employment services and opportunities for people to work, as well as integrated day services for people who are not interested in working, or what to do both,” said Steven J. Schwartz, litigation director at the Center for Public Representation.

Supported employment is a state-funded program that prepares people with disabilities to find and keep jobs.

“It allows people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to be full members of the workforce – get paid what everyone else is paid, minimum wage or better, entitles them to whatever benefits or advancement is available to people without disabilities. People with disabilities will have a fair shot at whatever work is available to everyone else,” Schwartz said.

In 2020, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended repealing the section of the federal law that allows employers to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage.

Other states, including Maryland and Alaska, have abandoned the practice, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The change in North Carolina will affect not only about 1,000 people who now work in sheltered workshops, but people who won’t end up working in one, said Chris Hodgson of Disability Rights NC.

“The norm will be to be part of the mainstream economy,” he said.