NC JUSTICE NEWS, Feb. 9: HK on J, the President's Budget, Unemployment, Medicaid, Transportation


February 9, 2010



HKonJ 4: Thousands will Gather for Annual March This Saturday


Join us for the fourth annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street Rally and March. The event, led by the North Carolina NAACP, calls attention to policy issues that prevent the state's low-income and minority residents from accessing opportunity and getting ahead.

Attendees will gather in front of Shaw University's Estey Hall at 9:30 Saturday morning. As NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber said:

Our movement has advanced good and important changes lately by recognizing that We is the most important word in the justice vocabulary. The issue is not what we can't do but what we can do when we work together. We have helped to shift political debate in North Carolina. We have won significant legislative battles. We have built a coalition second to none in the nation. But our work and the need for our continuing togetherness is far from over.


FEDERAL BUDGET: Obama Proposes Important Investments

The Justice Center applauds President Obama's budget proposal, which would invest in North Carolina's working families while balancing critical needs such as education and housing with deficit reduction. The budget would provide $1.5 billion for schools, students and teachers in North Carolina and $888.4 million in new funding for Pell Grants to help families pay for college. It would also extend $598.3 million in housing assistance, and it would infuse $1.3 billion of capital into the state to fix and expand the North Carolina's roads and highways, modernize airports, and expand water and sewer infrastructure. While capping overall domestic discretionary spending, the budget would increase funding in 2011 in areas such as education, clean energy, infrastructure, and basic research and development.

The budget also contains significant steps toward tax reform. It proposes to save $750 billion over 10 years by narrowing tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, multi-national corporations that shift profits abroad to avoid paying their fair share of taxes here, and high-income households. It would also reform certain practices by financial institutions and take other steps to reduce tax avoidance. This $750 billion in tax savings would enable $284 billion for new tax cuts, which would be targeted primarily for middle- and lower-income families and for businesses. A specific example of a positive tax change for low- and moderate-income families is a proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. The budget would reduce taxes for 3.4 million North Carolina families.

Taken as a whole, the president's budget would create jobs and point North Carolina and the nation toward prosperity.


UNEMPLOYMENT: Congressional Action Needed Now!

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created a comprehensive set of unemployment insurance programs and supplements that have aided millions of workers struggling with joblessness. However, unless Congress acts soon to reauthorize the programs, these benefits will expire on February 28th. It is critical to keep the benefits intact for the remainder of 2010, not only for millions of workers who will otherwise face a benefit cut-off, but also to sustain the economic recovery. As the Congressional Budget Office recently reported, the Recovery Act’s aid to the unemployed produces the single most effective boost to job creation and economic recovery of all the federal options being debated by Congress.

This extension of benefits would be especially important for North Carolina's unemployed workers, who are searching for jobs at a time of record-high unemployment. The National Employment Law Project estimates more than 13,500 North Carolinians will lose their unemployment benefits between March and June unless Congress acts.


MEDICAID: Protecting a Program that Aids the Most Vulnerable

The recent report about the rising cost of Medicaid from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research has some sobering news for policymakers --most notably, that the rapid growth of the state's aging population will spur even more increases in Medicaid spending and significantly increase the percentage of the state budget that goes to the program.

Medicaid is a successful and critically important program. In 2007, it covered 1.7 million children, seniors, the blind and people with disabilities without much of the administrative overhead seen in the private health care industry. It is a program targeted at specific groups of the state's most vulnerable people; most uninsured adults do not qualify for Medicaid regardless of income.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler told lawmakers recently that the state may have to stop covering some services to reduce costs, such as hospice care, transplants, and respiratory care for children -- care that doesn't sound too "optional." So what's the key to getting Medicaid spending under control? The Center's report includes some important recommendations, like expanding the state's Community Care Program, which provides patients a "medical home" for their care, and treating more elderly patients in their homes instead of in expensive institutions. Proposals like preferred drug lists to hold down pharmaceutical costs also make sense. But there is only so much the state can do to control Medicaid spending without hurting the people the program is now serving.

Significantly reducing Medicaid costs means tackling rising overall health care costs and the industries that profit from them. Federal health care reform is the only humane and rational answer.


Transportation: Fixing how North Carolina gets there from here

The way we commute affects our lives in myriad ways, from the time we spend traveling to the costs (economic and environmental) of the fuel we consume. This is especially true of working families, whose budgets have been stretched by a long recession and lack of access to adequate public transportation options.

To truly get serious about transportation in North Carolina, Dr. Stephen Jackson notes in an opinion piece this week, lawmakers have to address three main issues: reforming the Highway Trust Fund, getting serious about revenue reform, and getting local governments more involved.

Some steps:

So what can be done? While there are small reforms that can help, in general, the finance reform challenge is more fundamental. First and foremost is the fact that the gas tax is an anachronism. As fuel efficiency increases, collections per mile travel fall. In the long run, North Carolina needs to take the lead on moving the region and the country forward towards a "vehicle-miles traveled" tax system. In a future with more hybrids and non-internal combustion engine vehicles, it is the rational direction.

In addition, the new "Intermodal and Congestion Relief Fund" (which is designed to fund mass transit) needs a permanent revenue source. It cannot survive on ad hoc transfers from the General Fund. Possible candidates include vehicle sales taxes, registration fees or, eventually, a portion of a vehicle miles traveled tax.


Work at the Justice Center: Budget & Tax Center is hiring a public policy analyst

The Budget and Tax Center (BTC), a special project of the NC Justice Center, is the state’s leading source for information on how fiscal and economic policies shape the opportunities available to working families. Because of its long-standing reputation for credible analysis and well-researched proposals, a wide range of organizations and leaders turn to the BTC for leadership in setting the NC policy agenda. The BTC informs and affects public policy decisions by producing credible and timely reports and providing expert guidance to the media, advocates, policy makers, and the public.

BTC is seeking a Public Policy Analyst to join its team of experts working to help North Carolina overcome unprecedented economic and fiscal challenges. This position will focus on general economic and fiscal analysis with special attention to workforce and economic development. Responsibilities include conducting research, writing policy reports, making public presentations, and representing the BTC in collaborative efforts. The successful candidate will demonstrate a desire to conduct research with the goal of promoting public policy decisions that address the needs of low income communities.

Candidates must also have a strong interest and experience analyzing economic and fiscal policy issues; an advanced degree or commensurate years of work experience in public policy or related field; excellent quantitative analysis skills, including advanced competency in Excel; superior written, and oral communication skills, as well as effective presentation skills, and prefer working in a team environment. Two or more years of post-graduate experience in an applied research or public policy setting is preferred.



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This week’s topics:

Rep. Bob Etheridge on job creation, health care, and banking reform

NC's Achievement Gap with the NC Justice Center's Stephen Jackson

The changing face of hunger with Food Bank President Peter Werbicki

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