NC JUSTICE NEWS, May 26: Budget, Together NC, Food Stamps, Economy

BUDGET: Why a cuts-only approach is wrong for North Carolina

"North Carolina’s poor and low-income working families are struggling to weather this deep recession," writes Elaine Mejia in this week's Justice Center Legislative Bulletin. "As of the end of April, 10.8% of North Carolina’s workers could not find jobs, forcing families to cut spending, deplete savings and turn to public programs to help bridge the gap until the economy turns around."
The recession makes policy action to protect working families more necessary than ever. Contrary to what we sometimes hear, a commitment to public investment helps move the economy out of recession while at the same time improving life for all people in North Carolina.
To save budget dollars, state lawmakers are considering freezing access to health insurance for children. "That would mean the additional 8,000 children expected to become eligible for this program in the next fiscal year would likely go without health insurance," writes Mejia. "In addition to hurting families, this cut would take millions of dollars out of the state’s economy. That’s because the federal government pays for 75% of this program’s costs, so for every dollar lawmakers cut, the state loses three dollars."
 
TOGETHER NC: Town Hall discussion in Charlotte this Thursday on public investment
Together NC, a collection of more than 60 non-profit organizations, service providers, and professional associations, hosts a town hall meeting in Charlotte about the importance of public investments on Thursday, May 28.

The meeting will continue a series of town hall discussions to be held across the state. The purpose of the discussions is to let elected officials hear from people in their communities about the importance of public programs and services so that legislators can make budget decisions that support communities and families and do not undermine the state's economic recovery.

WHEN/WHERE: May 28, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Main Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County
310 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28202

Together NC is a broad and diverse coalition whose mission is to promote wise choices for shared prosperity for all North Carolinians.

The first meetings were held in Fayetteville and Asheville on May 18 and Elizabeth City on May 22. Future meetings will be held in Durham and Winston-Salem on June 3, Pittsboro and Rocky Mount on June 4, and Greenville on June 9. To attend, RSVP to hope@ncjustice.org.

 
FOOD STAMPS: Caseloads soar in all 100 counties
The severity of the current recession has fueled a dramatic expansion in North Carolina's Food Stamp Program. Since the start of the recession, the number of individuals living in assisted families has jumped by 231,000. Put differently, North Carolina's food stamp caseload has gained slightly more people than reside in the City of Winston-Salem.
 
These findings come from a BTC Brief authored by John Quinterno, a research associate at the NC Budget & Tax Center. Quinterno used data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to analyze changes in the food stamp caseload between December 2007 and April 2009.

"Food stamps help low-income families and households coping with dramatic drops in income make ends meet," says Quinterno. "Given the magnitude of the recession, more and more households are turning to the food stamp program to help purchase basic groceries."

"In April, 1.2 million North Carolinians lived in families receiving food assistance," notes Quinterno. "If those individuals gathered in one place, they would form a metro area more populous than Raleigh-Cary."

Even more striking is just how rapidly the caseload has grown. Since the recession's onset, the number of people living in assisted families has grown from 985,000 to 1.2 million. Some 57 percent of that increase occurred between September 2008 and April 2009. Two months - February and April 2009 - account for a quarter of the change.
 
"Food stamp caseloads have soared across North Carolina," adds Quinterno. "While urban counties like Mecklenburg have added the greatest numbers of individuals to their caseloads, rural counties have posted the largest increases in percentage terms. Overall, caseloads in 21 counties - 20 of them rural - have grown by at least a third."
 
Food stamps are becoming increasing vital to the well-being of families across the state. In April, 13 percent of North Carolinians lived in families receiving food stamps. Moreover, in 88 counties at least 10 percent of the population lived in families receiving food assistance. The five counties with the largest population shares are Burke (30 percent), Vance (28 percent), Edgecombe (26.5 percent), Halifax (25.8 percent) and Robeson (25.4 percent).
 
Food stamp payments, which are financed by the federal government, benefit not only families, but also communities, as benefits typically are spent quickly at local stores. Previous research by the Budget & Tax Center found that found stamp payments generated $2.8 billion in economic activity across North Carolina between December 2007 and March 2009.
 
EDUCATION: Education Leadership Institute coming in early June
The NC Justice Center's Education and Law Project is accepting applications for its Education Leadership Institute (ELI).  ELI is an education advocacy training program created out of a belief that informed knowledgeable parents and community members are essential to making public education the best that it can be for all students.

ELI is an intensive, 30 hour workshop that provides participants with the content knowledge and advocacy skills to improve public education in North Carolina. 

Become a part of an organized movement to improve the quality of public education in North Carolina! This workshop is offered at no cost to you.  The Justice Center will provide workshop materials, food, and accommodations if needed.

When: Friday, June 5, 2009, 9:00am-4:30pm          
Saturday, June 6, 2009, 9:00am-3:30pm          
Friday, June 19, 2009, 9:00am-4:30pm          
Saturday, June 20, 2009, 9:00am-3:30pm          

Where: The NC Justice Center, Raleigh, NC

To enroll in the training, participants must commit to attending all four days. For more information: Contact Beth Jacobs at 919-861-2064 or beth@ncjustice.org.

HEALTH CARE: Blue Cross Blue Shield: veering dangerously to the right
"Unlike many other southern states in which the business elite is comprised almost exclusively of reactionary anti-government types (who, aside perhaps from the football team at good ol' State U., couldn't care less about public structures and systems), North Carolina has a long tradition of fostering and maintaining a class of comparatively moderate corporate oligarchs." So writes Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch this week.
Unfortunately, "there have always been instances in which some leaders have strayed or lost their perspective. And over the last decade or so, Blue Cross has been one of the most frequent transgressors," he writes.
Schofield cites several examples, including:  

-  ill-fated and ill-conceived effort to convert to a for-profit company in the 1990s

-- repeated efforts to combat "mental health parity,"

-- maintenance of huge profits/surpluses and exorbitant salaries for its leadership team, and

-- hip-deep involvement in the recent troubles surrounding the State Health Plan.

 
ECONOMY: More bad news from jobs report
North Carolina employers eliminated 8,000 payroll positions in April, based on preliminary data released May 22 by the Employment Security Commission. This brings the net number of jobs lost in North Carolina since the start of the recession to 222,600.
 
"April marks the seventh consecutive month in which North Carolina employers eliminated more jobs than they created," says John Quinterno, research associate at the NC Budget & Tax Center. "While many fewer jobs were lost, on net, in April than in recent months, the labor market remains extremely weak."

"The April numbers are less negative than recent reports, but that doesn't alter the fundamental fact that North Carolina's economy simply isn't generating enough jobs to absorb all of the individuals who want and need work," notes Quinterno. "We remain mired in a long, deep, painful recession."

To put the numbers in perspective, compare payroll employment figure from April 2008 to April 2009. Over the year, the state's employers eliminated, on net, 202,600 jobs. Net losses occurred in virtually every major industry with the greatest numerical declines occurring in manufacturing (-66,900, predominately in durable goods manufacturing); trade, transportation and warehousing (-50,600); professional and business services (-44,200); and construction (-43,200). Relative to payroll sizes, construction employment fell the most, down 18 percent. Losses were offset by hiring in the public sector (+19,400) and education and health services (+14,500).
 
Job losses have fueled the sharp rise in North Carolina's unemployment rate. In April, 492,785 were unemployed. Over the year, the number of unemployed North Carolinians has nearly doubled while the unemployment rate has jumped from 5.7 to 10.8 percent. Over the past year, only two states - Oregon and South Carolina - posted greater increases in their jobless rates than did North Carolina.
 
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