Leaders brace for severe cuts to poverty programs

Leaders brace for severe cuts to poverty programs
June 08
04:00 2017

Now that both the North Carolina House and Senate in the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly have passed their respective versions of a fiscal year 2018 budget, conferees from both legislative houses are now supposed to be hammering out a compromise package both sides can agree with before the end of the month.

One prominent feature in the Senate’s proposed $22.9 billion budget, something that Gov. Roy Cooper made clear this week he does not like, is a $1 billion tax cut for the upper income and corporations in the state. Such a huge tax cut, if passed, would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue not coming in to improve education, or create opportunities for struggling families across the state.

“In the face of proposed federal funding cuts as well as unmet needs for rebuilding Eastern N.C. after Hurricane Matthew, these cumulative losses will be compounded,” says Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Justice Center.

Under the Senate budget, eligibility for food stamps would be changed, effectively disqualifying 133,000 people, including 51,000 children. The House version does not include that provision, however President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal would cut the food stamp (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP) by $192 billion over the next decade.

Trump’s federal budget would also cut Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, by $800 billion, and welfare by $21 billion.

“By requiring Social Security numbers to obtain tax refunds, the White House would also pare back the earned-income tax credit and child tax credit — wage supplements for the working poor,” reported The New York Times in a May 22 story. “Mr. Trump also wants to make large cuts to educational programs aimed at helping often low-income students secure federal loans or grants, and he would cut access to disability payments through Social Security.”

To add insult to injury, it didn’t help last month when HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson said in an interview, “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there, and you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

At least one Democratic member of Congress rhetorically asked Carson if he considered hunger to be a “state of mind?”

With the president significantly slashing the social safety net at the federal level, and the state legislature offering yet another huge tax cut to the wealthy since 2013, observers say the poor will be placed in a desperate situation.

“It is very disheartening to see these cuts that have been set forth,” said Rev. Alvin Carlisle, president of the Winston-Salem Branch of the NAACP. “The cuts in funding of programs that have traditionally helped the poor will be a tremendous blow to the most vulnerable in our community. The lack of expansion in Medicare [and Medicaid] and the rolling back of support for affordable health care initiatives will bring many minority communities to their knees. The lack of funding for education and the defunding of programs meant to spur the growth of minority businesses, will serve to lock more blacks out of the middle class, and some hopelessly stuck in the cycle of poverty.”

State lawmakers from Forsyth and Guilford counties, among others, have co-sponsored legislation this year to deal with poverty in North Carolina. House representatives Evelyn Terry, Ed Hanes Jr. and Cecil Brockman are co-sponsoring House Bill 410 – “Root Out Poverty/Task Force,” which if passed, would “create a statewide poverty task force, establishing two new personnel positions in the Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to poverty reduction, and economic recovery, and appropriating funds for those purposes.”

The bill, however, has been stuck in the House Committee on Appropriations since March 21.

“We are concerned about all of the needs of the North Carolina citizens,” state Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) told The Chronicle, “… as well as the concerns of all of our constituents both poor and wealthy.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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