NC JUSTICE NEWS: Meet the Staff - Lucy Martinez + The 2014 Legislative Session Begins + Education Plan

May 28, 2014

MEET THE STAFF: Lucy Martinez, Director of Operations & Human Resources

Years before she arrived at the NC Justice Center, Lucy Martinez recognized the work that impacts individuals and communities can come in many shapes and sizes.

The first impact work Lucy encountered was in college working at a food pantry for low-income families and the homeless. She worked 20 hours a week at the center, on top of going to Ohio State University full-time, and the experience was eye-opening. Public assistance is often viewed through the lens of what an individual “deserves,” depending on their lifestyle, housing situation, or family. But Lucy says food should be the most basic equalizer.

“Everyone should be able to eat,” she says. “We shouldn’t have food disparity or people with empty cupboards. Everyone deserves to have a full belly… what everyone deserves at the end of the day is food.”

Lucy knew she wanted to continue giving back to the community after college. She worked at Meals on Wheels, coordinating meals and delivery, and often going out on runs with the drivers. She recalls this as some of the hardest work she’s ever done, particularly when they would visit senior citizens living in the worst living conditions imaginable. “These people worked their whole lives, and ended up without any savings, safety net or family,” Lucy says. “At the end of your life you expect to be taken better care of.”

Lucy later became an AmeriCorps VISTA, and worked on setting up an education and employment program for a nonprofit drug treatment agency in Portland, Oregon. The nonprofit was connected to the court system, offering treatment for those who had been convicted of possession and other drug-related crimes. Such individuals could have their sentence suspended so they could enter the treatment, and if they were successful, charges were dismissed and wiped from their record.

It was one of the first programs of its kind in the country, and Lucy still hears from people aided by the program. Yet Lucy says she has always been on a pendulum that swings back and forth between direct service work and the infrastructure piece, such as helping to coordinate the drug treatment program. After her AmeriCorp time ended, she became a case manager for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in Columbus, and eventually left the Midwest with her family for Raleigh, where she began work at Cornerstone, a multi-service center for people experiencing homelessness. Cornerstone focused on mental health services and particularly housing, offering a place for the homeless to do their laundry, take a shower, and receive mail.

After five years of doing direct service work—on top of her myriad of experiences prior to Cornerstone—Lucy decided she was ready for another swing of the pendulum. She joined the NC Justice Center in 2010 and became the Director of Operations & Human Resources in June 2011.

“I was excited about the Justice Center because we’re trying to help on a larger scale,” Lucy says. “It’s helping 300 individuals in a month versus changing state laws or litigating to make an impact, or spreading the word and communication about how policies change things. The one-on-one work is very satisfying but I wanted to see what it’s like to make change on a larger scale.”

Since arriving at the Justice Center, Lucy has seen people she used to work with in the housing field at Cornerstone collaborate directly with Justice Center staff, who aim to ensure those who are doing the work on the ground are getting the support and training they need.

“When legislation changes, it’s sweeping. It makes a huge impact on the work people on the ground do,” Lucy says. “Those in direct service don’t have to time to do all of their work and tell people how laws would impact individuals. It’s very important that it’s being done. It’s what motivates me. The Justice Center helps all of the people on the ground do the work that helps those who are struggling.”

You can help Lucy and the rest of the Justice Center continue their work on behalf of low-income North Carolinians. Make a donation today.

BUDGET DEBATE: McCrory's proposal fails to meet needs of North Carolinians

The NC Senate is likely to roll out its budget this week. Time will tell how it measures up to Governor McCrory's 2015 budget proposal, which makes progress in certain areas but overall fails to meet the needs of North Carolinians.

The Governor's proposal simply leaves too many vital public services operating at diminished levels. Although it includes a small pay raise for teachers and state employees, further progress is impeded due to the revenue shortfall of $446.5 million the state faces in the current budget in addition to the projected shortfall for fiscal year 2015. The proposal is also significantly hampered by the tax plan legislators passed last year, which gave a substantial tax cut to the state’s wealthiest households at the expense of low- and middle-income residents. It will drain hundreds of millions of dollars in 2015 from the very resources that could be used to invest in the building blocks of a strong economy.

While the Governor’s proposal would take some small steps toward getting North Carolina back to pre-recession levels of spending, most of the spending increase is targeted to Medicaid and pay raises for teachers and state employees, leaving little for education and other pressing needs. In the fiscal year starting on July 1, the state would invest $1.6 billion—or 7 percent less—in schools, health care, and other public services than it did prior to the Great Recession, adjusting for inflation.

Overall, spending will be well-below the 45-year average as a share of the state's economy. In turn, the budget will fail to keep up with the state's growing needs across a number of vital services that directly benefit families and our economy.

UNEMPLOYMENT: NC's weak labor market and the influx of "missing workers"

Despite falling unemployment rates, most of North Carolina’s metro areas are not creating enough jobs to fully recover any time soon from the job losses of the Great Recession. Ten out of the state’s 14 metro areas have yet to reclaim the jobs lost during the recession, and it will take six of them more than a decade to create enough jobs to return to pre-recession levels at the current rate of employment growth.

Some areas like Charlotte-Gastonia, Durham-Chapel Hill, and Raleigh-Cary have seen enough job growth to have reclaimed all of the jobs lost during the recession. While a handful of other areas may reclaim enough jobs to fill the gap by the end of 2014, some aren't so lucky. Rocky Mount, for example, has only gained 100 jobs since April 2013. At this rate, it will take the metro area nearly a century to reclaim all of the jobs lost since the recession.

On top of the stunted job growth, unemployment continues to be a challenge for many. Unemployment has declined in recent months, yet the labor market continues to provide too few job opportunities for those still seeking work. The Budget & Tax Center highlighted this trend of "missing workers," which estimates the number of North Carolinians who would be seeking work if jobs were available. As of April, North Carolina has an estimated 242,164 missing workers. If these workers were included in the official unemployment rate, it would be nearly twice the official number: 11.4 versus 6.2 percent

A decreased unemployment rate should be something to celebrate. Yet when the jobless rate is dropping due to a shrinking labor force—at a time when unemployment benefits have been cut off—it's more than troubling. Many unemployed workers are dropping out of the labor force because they cannot find work, and as the numbers released this morning show, many of the state's largest employment hubs are simply not creating enough jobs to help North Carolina fully recover from the Great Recession.

IMMIGRATION: New guidelines ensure all students have access to education

The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education recently issued new guidelines that outline the legal responsibility of schools to enroll all students, regardless of a child’s or parent’s immigration status. It’s an important step in ensuring the right of every child to a public education, and fortunately is one that will be carried out here in North Carolina as well.

State Superintendent June Atkinson sent a letter to all North Carolina school districts earlier this month, reminding them of the policies that prohibit the schools from denying or delaying enrollment for students. The letter reads: "School districts, whether through registration, student information verification, or other data collection, may not require Social Security numbers, may not ask questions regarding or evidence of immigration status, or for any other documentation that is not required in order to register or enroll in school."

Unfortunately, some Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have denied enrollment to students who can’t produce a certified copy of their birth certificate. However, multiple documents are in fact accepted as proof of a student’s age in lieu of the certified birth certificate, including verified school records, state-issued identification, and a passport.

Through these parallel guidance letters, the federal government and the state of North Carolina are sending a strong message: schools must welcome and enroll all children. It affirms the legacy of Brown v. Board and Plyler v. Doe that all children must be given the opportunity to succeed that only education can provide.

MORAL MOVIES: Film series brings "Freedom Summer" to cities across NC

You’ve heard about Moral Mondays, but what about Moral Movies? The NC Justice Center is proud to be a collaborator, along with the NC NAACP and Working Films, on the Moral Movies film series, which is bringing award-winning documentaries to cities across North Carolina to jumpstart community dialogue and action on social, economic, and environmental issues.

Moral Movies will take place the last week of each month from April through July in Wilmington, Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Greenville and Durham. The NC Justice Center will host all of the July screenings of the documentary Inequality for All throughout the state.

The next round of screenings, featuring Freedom Summer, will take place on June 24th and 26th across the state. Over 10 memorable weeks in 1964, more than 700 student volunteers joined with organizers and local African Americans in an historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in Mississippi, the nation’s most segregated state. The summer was marked by sustained and deadly violence, including the notorious murders of three civil rights workers, countless beatings, the burning of thirty-five churches, and the bombing of seventy homes and community centers. Freedom Summer highlights an overlooked but essential element of the Civil Rights Movement: the patient and long-term efforts by both outside activists and local citizens in Mississippi to organize communities and register black voters — even in the face of intimidation, physical violence and death. Watch the trailer here.

Moral Movies is a collaboration among national nonprofit Working Films (based in Wilmington), the NC NAACP, and allied organizations across the state. For the full four month schedule and more information about the series please see the Working Films blog.

Hosted by The Mountain People’s Assembly
Freedom Summer: Thursday, June 26th, 7pm
Jubilee! 46 Wall St. Asheville, NC 28801

Hosted by the NC Association of Educators (NCAE)
Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
NCAE, 301 S McDowell ST. Suite 1200, Charlotte, NC 18204
Parking is available in the lot beside the building and your parking pass will be validated

Hosted by the Durham People’s Alliance
Freedom Summer: Thursday, June 26th, 7pm
Hayti Heritage Center 804 Old Fayetteville St. Durham, NC 27701

Hosted by The Beloved Community Center
Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 6pm
International Civil Rights Center and Museum, 134 S Elm St. Greensboro, NC 27401

Hosted by Pitt County NAACP
Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 131 Oakmont Dr. Greenville, NC 27858

Hosted by Action NC
Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Ave. Raleigh, NC 27607

Hosted by The Black Arts Alliance and the New Hanover County NAACP
Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
New Beginning Christian Church, 3120 Alex Trask Dr. Castle Hayne, NC 28429

EARNED INCOME TAX CREIDT: Tell legislators to reinstate this vital tool

In the next few days, Senators and House members will debate another round of tax changes.  It is time to urge them to reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit. Without action in the next few weeks, working families will no longer be able to receive this vital lifeline to help them meet rising costs for food, a tank of gas and the basics for their children’s educational success on low wages.

TAKE ACTION NOW!  Call or email your state legislator and tell them to reinstate the EITC.

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers gave our state the dubious designation of becoming the first state ever to let the state EITC expire, resulting in a tax increase for over 900,000 working families in North Carolina, including 64,000 military families. By letting the EITC expire, the state legislature disregarded evidence that it is one of the most effective tools to combat poverty.

  • The EITC is also one of the best ways to combat child poverty, contributing to better child outcomes including improved school achievement and higher future earnings in adulthood.
  • It supports workers as they earn low wages and seek career mobility.
  • And finally, it addresses the upside-down nature of our tax system that was made worse with the final tax plan.

Call or email your state legislator and tell them to reinstate the EITC.

HEALTH CARE FORUMS: Join us in Burnsville, Valdese on May 29

Join the Health Care Access Coalition for two special forums on May 29 in Burnsville and Valdese to address the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and the health benefits exchanges.

As the Affordable Care Act is being implemented in our state, North Carolina lawmakers have blocked the Medicaid program from being expanded. This means that 500,000 working adults will remain uninsured in 2014. Join in the conversation with the NC Justice Center to discuss the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, how Medicaid expansion would help the community, the new health benefits exchanges (online marketplace for purchasing insurance), and eligibility for tax credits for individuals and small businesses.

The Burnsville luncheon will be held on Thursday, May 29, from 12:30-2:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, 11 North Main Street in Burnsville, NC. Join us! Call or email today to reserve your place: Church office: (828) 682-2288 or Nicole Dozier: / (919) 272-3593.

The Valdese supper will also be held on Thursday, May 29, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. at the Olive Hill Community Economic Development Corporation, Inc., 309 Columbo St. SW, Ste. 110 in Valdese, NC. Call or email today to reserve your place: Olive Hill CEDC Office: (828) 522-4051 or Nicole Dozier: / (919) 272-3593.

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