North Carolina finally passed its first state budget since 2017, and it is deeply and unfairly flawed. Also, the state was almost five months late, as it was due by June 30th and finally signed November 18. Many bad allocations and changes were included, and some serious statewide improvements were left out. With all of the money available to the legislature, they are choosing to do little for women and state employees but doing lots for rich people, corporations and pet tax giveaways.
One good thing is that sexual assault services got a funding boost toward sexual assault services and toward the state’s backlog on rape kit tests. The budget allocated $25 million toward sexual assault services, plus another $10 million to continue chipping away at the state’s backlog on rape kit tests. There is funding included to hire eight scientists at the State Crime Laboratory, since there aren’t enough labs processing the rape kits. Attorney General Josh Stein says it may take 2-3 years to clear up the backlog of rape kits in North Carolina right now.
A main selling point with this budget is that state employees, including teachers, are finally getting raises. However, the raises are low, considering state employees have not received raises for years. Teacher pay is going up 2.5% per year for two years starting in 2022. Teacher salaries are already low compared to other professionals with degrees, and compared to teachers in other states. Teacher assistant salaries are very low and the number of teacher assistants was never restored. Eighty percent (80%) of teachers are women, and their raises were about half of what was recommended in the Leandro decision that has been in the news. Raises should have been higher considering how long these teachers and others have waited for raises, because there is inflation, and because of the extra work and stress teachers and staff have been dealing with due to the pandemic.
There is also little incentive for new teachers to teach in North Carolina. Starting teachers are ranked 43rd in the US. In addition to low raises, North Carolina state employees and teachers who are hired after Jan. 1, 2021, won’t get health plan benefits when they retire. With all the extra money North Carolina is stockpiling, public school teachers, staff and state employees are being starved. At the same time, the budget gifts millions of taxpayer money to private schools and also changes policy on who can receive private school vouchers and how much they can get. More on this giveaway later.
There are many more bad changes in the budget, including massive taxpayer giveaways, and failure on the part of the Legislature to deal with recognized problems, like rural hospitals closing and lack of medical services being available in rural areas, as well as failure to address barriers to women working due to Covid, like lack of child care. There were a few shocking changes, like the state budget taking emergency powers away from the Governor. Here is more about the harm or negligence toward women with the state budget.
North Carolina has one of the largest uninsured populations in the country, using very restrictive eligibility criteria. The legislature’s failure to include Medicaid Expansion in the budget is a huge missed opportunity. This is regardless of the extra benefits states like North Carolina would have received by expanding, because the basic expansion would provide so much. There are excellent benefits that expanding Medicaid provide beside the incentive – covering over 600,000 more workers, providing more health care jobs in every county, and funneling billions of dollars to North Carolina from the federal government. Meanwhile, North Carolina money goes to help other states. Medicaid expansion would help people who are really struggling to make it with extremely low pay, many of them women. North Carolina is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid coverage, including all 7 states in the Southeast. According to the Cone Hospital report, “The Economic and Employment Benefits of Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina – June 2019 Update,” “North Carolina currently covers parents with incomes up to 42 percent of the poverty line and generally does not cover adults without dependent children. The expansion would lift income criteria to 138 percent of the poverty line for adults 19 to 64 ($29,400 for a family of three).” Governor Cooper worked until the end to try to get Medicaid expansion included. At this time, North Carolina’s best bet for Medicaid Expansion is for Congress to mandate it.
Expanding Medicaid would Improve Black Maternal Health also – Black women die from pregnancy at alarming rates. Black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy than White women, according to the CDC. In North Carolina, 27.6 women die per every 100,000 births. For Black women, 56.8 women die per 100,000 births, more than double.
The state budget gives away $15.8 Million of Taxpayer Money to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) over two years! This is up from a $2.6 million allocation over two years in the 2017 budget, and 2017 was a great leap from 2015, when the allocation was for $300,000. Before 2013, NO MONEY WENT TO CPCs, as it should be. Since the budget with higher allocations to CPCs failed to pass in 2019 and 2020, the last budget that passed was in 2017 for $2.6 million over two years/$1.3 million per year. In 2019, the legislature proposed $5.2 million over two years, but it failed to pass. In 2021, the House proposed about $3 million, the House proposed $9 million, and somehow the final budget includes $15.8 million for CPCs. CPCs are not even real health care clinics, and have been staffed mostly by volunteers who are anti-abortion. This is why CPCs are also known as fake clinics. Their sole purpose is to dissuade women from getting abortions. As not real clinics, pregnant women who visit CPCs are not protected by HIPAA privacy rule which requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information and sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without an individual’s authorization. It is unconscionable for North Carolina taxpayer money to be funding CPCs.
North Carolina also used money to fund CPCs from what used to be known as the federal welfare program, now known as the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, as reported in the Guardian in “At least 10 states divert federal welfare funding to anti-abortion clinics,” 6/4/21.
The budget gifts millions of taxpayer money to private schools and also changes policy on who can receive private school vouchers and how much they can get. The state’s largest private school voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarship Program, got a significant boost. The state’s yearly appropriation went up 150%, from $10 million per year to $15 million per year until the 2031-2032 school year. In addition, the maximum scholarship award amount jumped up from $4,200 a year to $5,900 per student. The new budget also opens the scholarship to new families by raising the income threshold to qualify from around $73,000 a year to about $85,000 a year. Clearly this legislature is more interested in private schools than public education.
The budget does not address barriers to women and to people of color working due to Covid and lack of child care. According to an NC Justice Center report, “State of Working NC 2021: Protecting & Connecting Workers,”
”hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians face enormous barriers in their effort to rejoin the labor force. “Around 250,000 people in our state, mostly women, can’t work because they don’t have access affordable child care; roughly 100,000 have site concerns about contracting or spreading COVID-19 by working in person, 50,000 lack reliable transportation, and many either can’t access the jobs that do exist or lack broadband needed to work remotely or search for a job. In most of these cases, people of color and women who had the least financial cushion to fall back on when they lost jobs due to COVID-19 face the largest obstacles to rejoining the labor market.”
The budget gifts millions of taxpayer money to private schools and also changes policy on who can receive private school vouchers and how much they can get. The state’s largest private school voucher program, called the Opportunity Scholarship Program, got a significant boost. The state’s yearly appropriation went up 150%, from $10 million per year to $15 million per year until the 2031-2032 school year. In addition, the maximum scholarship award amount jumped up from $4,200 a year to $5,900 per student. The new budget also opens the scholarship to new families by raising the income threshold to qualify from around $73,000 a year to about $85,000 a year. This money has few if any restrictions and little or no oversight. This is one of the parts of the budget that wouldn’t pass on its own, with Cooper vetoing, and a strong coalition upholding the vetoes. Clearly this legislature is more interested in private schools than public education.
There are so many problems with the budget that people aren’t hearing about enough of them. This budget is full of tax cuts and tax giveaways, and little or no support for problems exposed by Covid. The paltry raises and bonuses for state employees are little compared to massive, inappropriate and unnecessary tax giveaways for CPCs and private school vouchers and more tax cuts. North Carolina continues to refuse all the benefits that expanding Medicaid would bring, even while Covid puts more strain on health care workers and health care institutions. The NC Justice Center report is a road map for how to help women and people of color get back to work, showing what taxpayer money should fund for public good. It is bad for individuals and the economy that the legislature choose to do otherwise.
“Profiling North Carolina’s Uninsured: How Expanding Medicaid Can Make a Difference,” 1/29/19, https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/profiling-north-carolinas-uninsured-how-expanding-medicaid-can-make-a-difference/
“BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH: HEALTH EQUITY BEGINS BEFORE BIRTH,” 4/27/21, x_https://blog.bcbsnc.com/2021/04/black-maternal-health-health-equity-begins-before-birth/ (trouble with link)
Cone Foundation Report – The Economic and Employment Benefits of Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, June 2019 Update – https://www.conehealthfoundation.com/app/files/public/621ee3b4-cb3f-4854-a9a8-7af04fd2166b/expanding-medicaid-in-north-carolina—2019.pdf
“Even More Benefits From Expanding Medicaid NOW,” 5/21/21, https://northcarolinanow.wordpress.com/2021/05/21/even-more-benefits-from-expanding-medicaid-now/
“At least 10 states divert federal welfare funding to anti-abortion clinics,” 6/4/21, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/04/states-divert-federal-welfare-funding-anti-abortion-clinics
“North Carolina Republicans Try A Backdoor Grab For Power,” 6/23/21, https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article253031618.html
“State of Working NC 2021: Protecting & Connecting Workers,” 9/4/21, https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/state-of-working-nc-2021-protecting-connecting-workers/
“It’s time to use the state budget to fix North Carolina’s leaky roof,” 9/11/21, https://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2021/09/11/its-time-to-use-the-state-budget-to-fix-north-carolinas-leaky-roof/
“Constant chipping away at our reproductive rights’: Advocates slam funding for crisis pregnancy centers in House budget,” 9/21/21, https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2021/09/21/constant-chipping-away-at-our-reproductive-rights-advocates-slam-funding-for-crisis-pregnancy-centers-in-house-budget/
“Six Republican counties in WNC pledged their support for Medicaid expansion. What’s changed?” 10/21/21, https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2021/10/11/six-republican-counties-support-medicaid-expansion-whats-changed/
“Wake bus drivers continue sick out for third day even after board decides on bonuses,“ 11/3/21, https://www.wral.com/wake-bus-drivers-continue-sick-out-for-third-day-even-after-board-decides-on-bonuses/19959455/
“Tuesday Wrap: NC finally has a state budget,” 11/16/21, https://www.wral.com/tuesday-wrap-nc-finally-has-a-state-budget/19985458/
“Cooper pressed Medicaid to the end, budget documents show,” 11/17/21, https://www.wral.com/cooper-pressed-medicaid-to-the-end-budget-documents-show/19987518/
“Status of State Medicaid Expansion Decisions: Interactive Map,” 11/19/21, https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/status-of-state-medicaid-expansion-decisions-interactive-map/
“13 things tucked away in NC budget,” 11/21/21, https://www.wral.com/13-things-tucked-away-in-nc-budget/19988923/
“NC budget has funds to eliminate backlog of untested sexual assault kits, but it could take years,” 11/23/21, https://www.cbs17.com/news/capitol-report/nc-budget-has-funds-to-eliminate-backlog-of-untested-sexual-assault-kits-but-it-could-take-years/
“Why Was NC’s Budget So Late in 2021?” 11/29/21, https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article255910516.html
“State Employees Receive Bonus Before Christmas, Teachers Next Year,” 12/9/21, https://www.newbernsj.com/story/news/2021/12/09/state-employees-receive-bonus-before-christmas-teachers-next-year/8886146002/
“At long last, a budget. What does it mean for K-12 and early childhood education?” 12/13/21, https://www.ednc.org/12-13-2021-at-long-last-a-budget-what-does-it-mean-for-education/
“Three numbers that illustrate the folly of North Carolina’s latest austerity budget,” 12/14/21,