N.C. legislators are packing up and heading home, leaving behind them a bag of mixed results. It's been a difficult session as legislators tried to figure out how to plug a very large hole in the state budget. As any parent who has ever tried to balance their family's budget knows, sometimes you have to make really hard decisions, but you try to make the sure the most important things, like those that impact your child's well-being, are covered.
Given the current budget realities, state legislators did a pretty good job of protecting children's health and safety in the budget. While far from perfect, the compromises legislators struck were able to spare N.C. children the kinds of cuts we've seen in other states where programs were slashed and school years shortened.
Among the good news, the budget for N.C. Health Choice, the program that provides access to high-quality healthcare for children in low-income working families, was increased by $6.5 million, which will allow about 2,700 additional children to be enrolled over the course of the year. The rapid and drastic loss of employer-based coverage coupled with job loss from the recession means need is
increasing faster than ever. There are more than 100,000 kids eligible but not enrolled. While it would have been great if more children could have been covered, at least NC didn't take any steps back in ensuring children have access to health care.
Other highlights included full funding of the infant mortality programs, which include the Safe Sleep and Folic Acid campaigns. Protecting these programs, which had already been cut deeply the year before, was critical for a state that still ranks close to the bottom for infant mortality. And in early learning, More at Four received no cuts.
In places where there were cuts, efforts were made to minimize their impact. Although Smart Start received a $5 million cut, this was only half what was originally proposed. The Universal Vaccine program, which is a public program providing vaccines for kids, is being transitioned to private insurers, but $3 million was allocated to help purchase vaccines in advance of the 2010-11 school
Among the most disappointing moves by the General Assembly, members failed to include a special provision that would have allowed eligible, low-income families to continue receiving their child care subsidy while pursuing a job search and/ or transitioning from education or training to the job market. For many workers, losing their child care subsidy means they are now unable to reenter the work force. They can't conduct job searches, much less start a new job and regain their economic footing. This wouldn't have cost any additional money, but would simply have extended the allotted time that low-income families could maintain their subsidies while searching for jobs or pursuing education and training. In a session where legislators talked so much about the importance of jobs for North Carolinians, it seems absurd that they let down low-income families in this way.
And even though N.C. legislators have passed a budget and headed home, this doesn't mean that we still couldn't see cuts to important programs. Of particular concern is the $490 million in federal Medicaid dollars that are counted on in the budget but that have not yet been passed by Congress. A special provision was included in the budget, directing the governor on what to do if the federal funds do not materialize in the next six months. If you feel strongly about this issue, contact Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Kay Hagan and let them know! You can reach their offices by calling the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.
It's been a tough session, but as they head home our state lawmakers deserve our thanks for doing their best for N.C.'s kids in a difficult situation. Like our kids, they need to hear from us about the things they do well and not just the things we don't like. You can find who represents you and how to reach them on www.ncleg.net. A short e-mail will mean a lot!
Parents' voices were important in making sure that children were protected in these difficult budget negotiations. To find out more about how you can be a powerful voice for N.C.'s kids, visit us as www.momsrising.org!
Beth is the Durham mom of two and active in the North Carolina chapter of MomsRising.