NC Justice News, May 12: Food Stamps, Ex-Offender Issues, Together NC, Fair Housing, Jobs

 

FOOD STAMPS: New report shows food stamps help slow recession in all 100 NC counties

Since the start of the recession, North Carolinians have received $1.6 billion in food stamp benefits. These payments, in turn, have generated $2.8 billion in economic activity across all 100 of the state's counties. Absent food stamp benefits, the state's economic woes would be worse.

These findings come from a new BTC Brief authored by John Quinterno, a research associate at the NC Budget & Tax Center. The brief estimates the statewide and county-by-county impacts of food stamp payments made between Dec. 2007 and Mar. 2009.

"Food stamp benefits help low-income families and households struggling with a dramatic loss of income make ends meet," said Quinterno. "Because most benefits are spent quickly at groceries and area stores, the payments also help to maintain local economic activity."

"So far during the recession, food stamp benefits have generated $2.8 billion in economic activity," said Quinterno. "This is equal to 1.7 percent of all the wages paid in the state in 2007."

To compute the economic impact of food stamps, the author compiled monthly payment information from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and applied an economic multiplier of $1.73. This multiplier is in the mid-range of published values, which makes the resulting estimates conservative ones.

During this recession, food stamp payments have benefited all 100 North Carolina counties. In dollar terms, the economic impact has been most pronounced in Mecklenburg County ($262.1 million), followed by Guilford ($161.4 million),  Wake ($140.6 million), Cumberland ($125.3 million) and Forsyth ($95.8 million) counties. Relative to the size of local wage bases, the economic impact has been greatest in Caswell County, followed by Warren, Martin, Perquimans and Washington counties.

"The importance of food stamps benefits is growing as the recession worsens," said Quinterno. "Since the start of the recession, the number of households receiving food assistance has increased by 21 percent. In March, 1.2 million North Carolinians lived in households receiving assistance. If those individuals gathered in one place, they would form a metro area almost as populous as Charlotte."

Additionally, households receiving food stamps recently received a boost from the federal recovery legislation, which authorized a temporary 13.6 percent increase in the value of food stamp benefits. The additional money not only will help low-income households weather the economic storm, but also will bolster local economies when the funds are spent at area retailers.
  • BTC BRIEF : "Reversing the Decline"
  • NEWS RELEASE: "Boost in food stamp benefits will stimulate economy"
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    TOGETHER NC: Town Hall discussions in Fayetteville, Asheville next Monday will showcase benefits of public investment

    North Carolina's state government faces a large budget shortfall. It is critical that elected officials hear from folks in their communities about the importance of public programs and services so they can make budget decisions that support communities and families and do not undermine the state's economic recovery.

    The institutions North Carolina families rely on -- education, health care, unemployment insurance, housing assistance, child care, just to name a few -- are in jeopardy this year.

    That's why Together NC, a collection of more than 60 non-profit organizations, service providers, and professional associations who have come together to promote wise choices that will build shared prosperity for all, are conducting a series of Town Hall meeting across the state about the importance of public investments.

    The first two meetings take place next Monday, May 18, in Fayetteville and Asheville. The details:

    FAYETTEVILLE
    Monday, May 18, 10 am to Noon
    Cumberland County Bordeaux Branch Library
    3711 Village Drive

    ASHEVILLE
    Monday, May 18, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.
    United Way for Asheville and Buncombe Co.
    50 South French Broad Ave.

    Other upcoming meetings will take place in Charlotte and Pittsboro. To attend, RSVP to hope@ncjustice.org.

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    SECOND CHANCE ALLIANCE: Coalition applauds Gov. Perdue's creation of ex-offender task force

    The NC Second Chance Alliance — a coalition of advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and interested citizens — commends Governor Perdue for establishing a new task force to examine barriers and recommend policy solutions for those coming out of the prison system.

    Governor Perdue announced the formation of the StreetSafe Task Force to Reduce Repeat Offenders late last week. The initiative will bring together a diverse set of partners, including faith-based organizations, non-profits, local and state government agencies, and business leaders to develop a plan to reduce recidivism and reintegrate offenders back into their communities.

    “Amidst a budget shortfall that raises questions about how our state spends its dollars most effectively, the creation of the StreetSafe Task Force couldn’t come at a better time,” said Bill Rowe, General Counsel at the NC Justice Center and one of the founders of the NC Second Chance Alliance. “When it costs approximately $80,000 to construct just one new prison bed, we need to think more creatively of ways to stem our prison population growth and focus on reintegrating ex-offenders back into their communities.”

    “Our current system of incarceration and re-incarceration is simply not working,” said Dennis Gaddy, Executive Director of the Community Success Initiative in Raleigh, which provides transitional services . “It’s putting our public safety at risk, draining our state’s resources, and failing those who have paid their debts to society.”

    The NC Second Chance Alliance was formed earlier this year to call upon state and local elected officials to create a comprehensive plan for examining and addressing the significant barriers facing those coming out of the prison system, including housing, employment, and discrimination. The coalition has over 70 organization members and individuals from across the state.

    More information on the NC Second Chance Alliance can be found at http://www.ncjustice.org/?q=node/62.

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    NONPROFITS: Study shows advocacy by 13 NC nonprofits brings statewide benefits

    For every dollar that foundations and other funding sources gave to support advocacy, organizing and civic engagement efforts by 13 nonprofit organizations in North Carolina, state residents received $89 in benefits.

    This is one of the findings in a new report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) released on Monday, May 11 in Greensboro hosted by the N.C. Center for Nonprofits and North Carolina Network of Grantmakers. The NC Justice Center was one of 13 nonprofits featured in the research.

    "Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing and Civic Engagement in North Carolina" by Lisa Ranghelli and Julia Craig documents how these local organizations and their allies leveraged foundation grants to secure nearly $2 billion in benefits for North Carolinians.

    "We weren't surprised by how high the return on investment turned out to be," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. "With our research, we are giving foundations in North Carolina and around the country reasons to increase their support for efforts that advocate on and organize around critical policy issues, and involve citizens in the process."

    NCRP also found non-monetary gains from these activities on a range of issues including poverty, worker rights, education, health care, housing, environment and civil rights. Consequently, many North Carolinians saw concrete improvements in their lives. For example, more seniors were able to access affordable medications. An estimate of more than 139,000 minimum wage workers saw their income increase.

     "We found that advocacy, organizing and civic engagement helped build bridges across race, culture, class and other divides," said Ranghelli, senior research associate and lead author of the report.  "These are virtually unquantifiable, but the benefits are undeniable."

    North Carolina has a vibrant community of foundations that has grown over the years. A number of these foundations were critical supporters of the work by the nonprofits included in the study.

    "Our foundations are endlessly on the lookout for ways to serve our communities," said Bobbi Hapgood, executive director of the NC Network of Grantmakers. "We look to this report as a resource for how foundations may partner with some nonprofits and affect change in their communities."

    The 13 nonprofits from different regions in North Carolina featured in the research are: Center for Community Action, Center for Participatory Change, Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment (CHANGE), Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Durham CAN, Equality North Carolina, Helping Empower Local People (HELP), NC Housing Coalition, NC Justice Center, Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, Senior PharmAssist, Student Action with Farmworkers, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

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    UNEMPLOYMENT: National job losses continue in April

    National employment numbers released last week show that the labor market continued to deteriorate in April. The American economy shed another 539,000 jobs, and the monthly unemployment rate rose from 8.5 to 8.9 percent.

    While this most recent employment report is somewhat less severe than those of recent months, its findings nevertheless are grim and offer little evidence that a recovery is near.


    "The national labor market continued to perform horribly in April," said John Quinterno, a researcher with the North Carolina Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center. "For the 16th consecutive month, employers in most major industries eliminated more jobs than they created. Job losses have triggered rising unemployment and underemployment. In April, not only was 8.9 percent of the labor force unemployed, but 15.8 percent was underemployed."

    Quinterno expects that the national numbers are a preview of what is in store for North Carolina when the state data for April are released later in the month. North Carolina has one of the nation's weakest labor markets. 

    Since the recession's start, North Carolina employers have eliminated, on net, 214,000 positions. Some 81 percent of the net losses have occurred just since October 2008. Job losses have contributed to an increase in the unemployment rate, which has risen to 10.8 percent from 4.7 percent since the beginning of the recession.

    While today's report is less severe than recent ones, Quinterno said, it highlights the need for an all-hands-on-deck approach from federal and state lawmakers alike.


    "The labor market remains in critical condition," he said. "The federal recovery legislation likely will help to stabilize the situation in coming months, but in North Carolina, the state budget shortfall poses a direct threat to the recovery's effectiveness. If state leaders focus exclusively on cutting their way to a balanced budget, they will neutralize the recovery package's impact.

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    HOUSING: Protecting homeowners, protecting North Carolina: why we need two new laws to protect consumers

    "A home is more than four walls and a roof," writes the Justice Center's Al Ripley in the latest Legislative Bulletin. "For most North Carolinians, the family home is the most important investment they will make over the course of a lifetime. Access to housing can represent security, prosperity, and hope for the future -- and for our society at large, encouraging homeownership can help support strong, stable communities."

    For these and other reasons, Ripley writes in the Justice Center's weekly publication distributed to lawmakers, it is especially important to pass two common-sense pieces of legislation.

    House Bill 1057, and its Senate companion Senate Bill 819, would abolish certain types of deficiency judgments on predatory mortgage loans. Changing the law would protect the thousands of victims of predatory lending now facing foreclosure from deficiency judgments. Keeping people in their homes is just one important benefit of this reform, which would help create a fairer system.

    Another major issues is consumer debt -- and companies preying on the most vulnerable among us. Another bill, Senate Bill 954, would protect the public from abusive debt buyers and debt collection practices.

    [I]t’s in everyone’s best interests to help homeowners and consumer in trouble and people suffering from unfair debt burdens," writes Ripley. "Much work needs to be done. But together, these two bills are fine examples of positive steps forward."

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