NC JUSTICE NEWS: Senate Budget Cuts + Defenders of Justice Awards + Unemployed Workers in Limbo

May 17, 2011

BUDGET PROPOSAL LOWLIGHTS: Deep cuts across the board

The NC Senate is now working on its budget proposal, and reports out of the General Assembly are that it is going to be even worse than the House’s proposal.

Notably, the Senate plans to make deeper cuts to education and health and human services. Based on subcommittee reports, Senators will slash an additional $106 million out of the public schools system and $22 million out of the community college budget (approximately $80 million would be restored to the UNC system). The Health & Human Services subcommittee will have to find another $88 million to cut in addition to the House cuts.

The Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center will release its analysis of the House budget later this week, but here are some of the highlights (or rather, lowlights):

  • The House cuts $1.9 billion from the budget over current-year spending cuts (that’s not including inflation or population increases.) A whopping 40% ($759 million) of that comes from the public education budget ($759 million). The health and human services budget gets a 24% cut.
  • The House budget puts aside $230 million for corporate and business tax cuts.
  • The House budget sets unrealistic savings goals for Medicaid and NC Health Choice, and it requires the Department of Health and Human Services to go on a slashing-and-burning spree when those goals aren’t met.
  • People of limited means would have a harder time getting justice in North Carolina under the House budget, which increases court fees and guts funding for indigent legal services.

And the Senate budget is supposed to be worse!

SLASHING MEDICAID: Cuts reduce long-term care availability

State lawmakers are considering nearly $700 million in state Medicaid cuts, and Congressional Republicans have proposed cutting billions of dollars more. In both cases, those pushing the cuts are trying to make them more palatable by not specifying just what services would be cut.

A new report from FamiliesUSA explains that cutting Medicaid would dramatically reduce the availability of long-term care for the the nearly 514,000 North Carolina seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid. For 193,600 seniors and 320,200 people with disabilities in North Carolina, Medicaid is a critical source of coverage for long-term care, often the only avenue they have to get the care they need.

Medicaid also enables people to stay in their homes. In North Carolina, about 46.0 percent of Medicaid spending on long-term care covers care provided in the homes or in communities. This care helps more than 115,000 North Carolinians stay out of nursing homes—and that saves the state money.

Proposals to cut Medicaid represent the most foolish in short-term thinking, but the consequences to North Carolina families would span across generations.

EARLY VOTING: New bill would shorten early-voting period

It is infuriating to see hard-fought-for rights eroded by those elected to represent the people and uphold democracy in North Carolina.

Last week, the NC House voted in favor of House Bill 658, which would shorten the early-voting period so some counties could save money. Currently, the law says early voting can begin "not earlier than the third Thursday before an election." This bill would change it to “the second Thursday.”

In 2008, 60% of votes in the presidential election were cast in early voting. Black voters, who made up about 22% of the state's registered voters, accounted for 36% of early voters. For people who work, have children to care for or have trouble getting transportation, early voting opens a much-needed window to enable them to get to the polls. It's disturbing to think elected representatives would want to close that window, even a little.

But when you consider this bill and the voter ID bill, which would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters, it would seem the legislative leadership is doing all it can to restrict access to the polls.

DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE: The event is this Thursday!

Please join us this Thursday in Durham for the Defender of Justice Awards to honor individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions in the fight against poverty in areas that reflect the scope of the Justice Centers work.

We hope to see you there!

The NC Justice Center's
2011 Defenders of Justice Honorees

RECEPTION AND AWARDS DINNER
Thursday, May 19, 6 pm - 9 pm
American Tobacco Campus, Bay 7, Durham, NC

 

State Senator Josh Stein of Wake County for his commitment to expanding protections for homeowners, consumers and low-income families throughout North Carolina

State Representative Angela Bryant of Nash County for her work to improve NC's systems of civil, criminal and juvenile justice, fight poverty, promote economic development and affordable housing, and secure equal rights for women and people of color

Democracy North Carolina for fighting to protect voting rights, increase voter participation and reduce the influence of big money in politics

The law firm of Elliot, Pishko and Morgan of Winston-Salem for two decades of effective and passionate advocacy for workers' rights and civil rights

Coalición de Organizaciones Latino-Americanas (COLA) of Asheville for their work improving the lives of workers and families in Latino communities in western North Carolina

Community Success Initiative for empowering and giving hope to people released from incarceration and helping them access the services and opportunities they need to build new lives

TICKETS ARE NOW AVAILABLE ONLINE.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Fixing North Carolina's revenue system

North Carolina's revenue system is failing the people of the state. The purpose of the revenue system is to fund investments in the public structures—schools, courts, hospitals, colleges and universities, and infrastructure—that are critical to building and preserving a strong middle class and a 21st century economy. While the Great Recession directly caused the collapse in state tax revenues, it is not the reason why now, with the state’s economy growing once again, state revenues remain below pre-recession levels. Only by responding to the current fiscal crisis through a balanced approach that addresses the fundamental problems with the state's revenue system will policymakers secure the long-term fiscal foundation of the state’s public structures.

NC Policy Watch is hosting a Crucial Conversation lunch on Monday, May 23 to look why North Carolina's revenue system is failing and how state lawmakers can fix it. The guest speaker will be Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Gardner's work focuses on state and local tax systems and their effect on low- and middle-income taxpayers.

COURT INTERPRETERS: Complaint questions access for non-English speakers in NC courts

Three North Carolina nonprofits are requesting an investigation into the state's court system, charging that the system has failed to provide free court interpreters for non-English speakers and has not translated crucial forms and website information for non-English speakers.

The Latin American Coalition, the Muslim American Society and the Vietnamese Society of Charlotte filed an administrative complaint, requesting an investigation to determine whether the lack of foreign language interpreters violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by state courts and also prohibits those courts from administering programs that subject individuals to similar discrimination.

Although certain persons with limited English proficiency receive a free interpreter in court—including indigent defendants in criminal cases and plaintiffs in domestic violence cases—a majority of plaintiffs and defendants who do not speak or understand English well do not receive interpreters paid for by the state. Many cases in which no interpreter is provided involve issues of critical importance to individuals and families, including child custody cases, evictions and foreclosures, and criminal cases where defendants choose to hire their own attorney instead of using a court-appointed lawyer.

Individuals with limited English proficiency face the prospect of losing their children, home, or liberty without access to an interpreter for court proceedings.

37,000 WORKERS: The unemployment benefit debate hits home

Legislative leaders' decision to play politics with the unemployment benefits of North Carolina workers has started to divide families across the state.

Greg and Elizabeth Rain Georgaras are two of the 37,000 North Carolinians cut off from their employment benefits four weeks ago, when the benefits expired and the legislature refused to extend them without conditions the governor found to be unreasonable. Now, the couple can no longer afford to keep their two young children with them. They recently sent Roger, 3, and Victoria, 2, to Florida to live with the Georgaras’ family while the Concord couple keeps looking for work and hopes their unemployment benefits will be restored.

Greg, 38, and Elizabeth Rain, 29, both laid off from jobs as security officers, had been receiving a total of $585 a week (before taxes) in federally funded extended employment benefits. But without benefits, they had no choice but to split up their family. "They’re no longer with me," Greg said. "I just couldn’t keep them in these types of surroundings, not having food and the electricity about to be cut off."

Read more about the Georgarases as part of NC Policy Watch's series on the impact of the unemployment-benefits stalemate on North Carolina's families.

HEALTH EXCHANGE BILL: Take action against HB 115

Sadly, the health exchange/marketplace bill that threatens to undermine health reform in North Carolina is likely to pass the NC House today.

House Bill 115 would allow Blue Cross NC and other insures to take over the new “health marketplace.” If this bill becomes law, it will allow insurers to regulate themselves, give insurers special appeal rights, and tax individuals and small businesses instead of insurers. That means more profits for Blue Cross and fewer protections for consumers.

If you haven’t already emailed your legislators, now is the time! It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s the only defense average North Carolinians have against Blue Cross and the immense lobbying clout it carriers in Raleigh.

 

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