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MomsRising: Fixing what they broke

Posted November 29, 2011

Crash! It always seems to happen while I’m trying to fix dinner. Someone’s Lego gets broken, a drink gets knocked off the table, someone trips someone else.

By the time I’ve wiped my hands and come around the corner from the kitchen, the denials and excuses are flying fast and furious. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault.”

Teaching kids to take responsibility for their actions can be one of the toughest jobs of parenting, but one of the most important. Lately it sounds like North Carolina lawmakers could use some help with this lesson themselves.

Right after Thanksgiving, they headed back to Raleigh for yet another special legislative session, and once again addressing the painful consequences of this summer’s budget is not on the agenda.

Proof of the damage these cuts have done is mounting.

Since the budget went into effect in July, at least 11,800 local government jobs have been lost, according to the Employment Security Commission. A total of 18,700 government jobs have been lost since this time last year. The state's unemployment rate is now 10.5 percent and our underemployment rate, which is more accurate because it includes those who’ve stopped looking for work or who are working fewer hours than they want, is 17.9 percent. By 2013, it is projected that 30,000 jobs will have been lost as a result of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 state budgets.

A majority of the jobs lost have involved teachers and others in education. As a direct result of the most recent state budget, 1,723 K-12 teachers and 2,282 teacher’s assistant positions have been eliminated across North Carolina, and a total of 6,382 school-related jobs have been cut. Since the 2008-2009 school year, 17,278 school staff have lost their jobs due to budget cuts.

Not only is the number of educators and support staff in North Carolina's schools decreasing - so is the quality of education. Across the state, funds for textbooks, instructional supplies, buses, staff development, and services for disabled children were slashed. School supply budgets were cut by 46 percent at a time when many teachers were already reaching into their own pockets to buy supplies for their classrooms.

Early childhood education and child care subsidies were also hit hard. An estimated 7,700 fewer children will receive early childhood development services once afforded them by More at Four and Smart Start, while 80 percent of families who use these services will now be forced to pay out of pocket to keep the programs afloat. The state waiting list for child care subsidies is at 50,695 as of August 2011, an all-time high. In the long-term, this means lost wages for parents who can’t afford child care, decreased school achievements and consequential decreased career earnings, just to name a few.

Access to affordable medical care for our state’s low-income residents has also suffered since lawmakers chose to cut funding for the state's Medicaid by $354 million. The program is now eliminating or reducing previously covered services such as eye exams, dental treatment, and physical therapy in order to meet savings targets, and there is currently a $139 million hole in the Medicaid budget.

Cuts to critical preventative care services like the East Carolina University High-Risk Clinic, which serves as a regional hub for the treatment and support of high-risk pregnancies, add additional strain to Medicaid. The elimination of state funding has led to the closure of two outreach clinics, the loss of key staff including the head nurse, and the doubling of wait times for patients in a part of the state with the highest infant mortality rates. Just one pre-term birth is more expensive than the entire state allocation for the clinic, which was $325,000, a relatively small amount in a $19.7 billion budget. The cost of these preventable pre-term births will largely be shifted to the already cut state Medicaid program.

All of these cuts were not inevitable, but a choice. By maintaining the temporary tax package, which included the penny sales tax and a surcharge on high-income earners, or looking at reform-minded revenue, lawmakers could have avoided many of these deep and wide-ranging cuts.

They chose not to and opted instead for a budget that undermined many of the programs families in North Carolina need. Now they refuse to accept responsibility for the damage their cuts have caused.

As parents, we expect our kids to admit when they make a mistake and try to fix it. We shouldn’t have to ask less from our state’s leaders.

Beth Messersmith is a Durham mother of two and member of NC MomsRising. She writes monthly for Go Ask Mom.

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  • couponwife Nov 30, 2011

    Love your writing - so poignant and relevant! I love your statement: "these cuts were not inevitable, but a choice." Agreed, 100%. The state's leaders keep pointing to the economy as the reason why they "couldn't prevent" these cuts. It's a matter of choice and priority, and our state's leaders have shown very clearly where their priorities are. Well said, Beth!