TAKE THE MONEY. IT'S OURS. EXPAND MEDICAID: There are no good reasons for North Carolina not to expand Medicaid coverage to as many as 650,000 North Carolinians who now lack affordable access to health care. It remains irrational that the General Assembly continues the ban on such expansion – particularly in the midst of the worst health pandemic the state and nation has seen in a century. How many of the 11,552 heart-breaking COVID-19 deaths might have been avoided? North Carolina’s eight-year failure to expand Medicaid has cost the state about $15 billion in lost federal funds. That is money that North Carolina taxpayers are not getting brought back into the state that would have provided nearly 84,000 annual mammograms, helped support struggling rural hospitals and created more than 100,000 jobs. The federal COVID-19 relief legislation that appears to be headed to the president offers North Carolina between $1.7 billion and $2.4 billion in ADDITIONAL federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) funds over two years – that would be on top of the cost of covering Medicaid expansion.
STOP SENDING LITTLE KIDS TO COURT IN NC: Until the passage of the “raise the age” law in 2017, North Carolina was the last state in the nation to automatically charge teens ages 16 and 17 as adults for all crimes. Now an eye-opening report by The News & Observer’s Virginia Bridges calls attention to a North Carolina law that allows children as young as 6 to be hauled into juvenile court. The law reaches earlier into childhood than any in the nation. Bridges focused on a 6-year-old in court on the charge of injury to property. His offense? He picked a tulip from a yard near his bus stop. Corpening, who chairs a subcommittee that will advise the legislature on the minimum age issue, recommends moving it to 10. At that age, children may be beyond believing in flying reindeer, but even then their idea of right and wrong is not well formed. North Carolina should go higher. The state’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice recently recommended raising the minimum age to 12. We agree. State Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat and former judge who served on the task force, filed a bill on Wednesday that would raise the minimum age to 10, though she would favor a higher age. The National Juvenile Justice Network says the minimum age should be 14, a standard set forth by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and what the group says is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally. Black residents are 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, but nearly half of the juvenile complaints filed against children ages 6 to 11 from 2015 and 2018 were against Black children, overwhelmingly boys.
CHILDCARE IS AN ECONOMIC ISSUE: As of October 2020, more than 70 percent of working parents were having difficulty finding a satisfactory child care arrangement—and about 10 percent couldn’t find one at all. Rural communities have been especially impacted. There are acres of research on the positive effects of early childhood education on improved school readiness, reduced need for special education, higher academic achievement, improved health status, lower criminal activity, and increased lifetime earnings. Economic analyses show again and again a compelling return-on-investment from early childhood education. Making child care a priority is in everyone’s best interest. The health of our communities depends on the health of our economy, which depends on the health of our businesses, which depend on a workforce that is available, trained, and able to work. And our workforce includes a good number of working parents. There are over 400,000 working parents in North Carolina with children under 6 years old. This isn't a problem for parents to solve on their own. Tackling child care challenges requires leadership from the business community and engagement from elected officials. Some solutions may be higher-cost, like employer sponsorships or public subsidies; others may be lower-cost, like family-friendly workplace policies. Family Forward NC and N.C. Early Childhood Foundation have ideas to get us started.
THE OLDEST PRESIDENT EVER TAKES CARE OF THE YOUNGEST AMERICANS: Sure, President Biden may be the oldest president in U.S. history. But in signing his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, he just delivered the biggest legislative victory for the young in generations. Thanks to Biden’s legislation, though, the United States will see a (partial) reversal of decades of de-prioritizing kids. The covid-19 package is expected to cut overall poverty by about one-third — and child poverty roughly in half, according to an analysis from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Among the biggest beneficiaries of this law will be young children of color. The single most important element of the law is its expansion and transformation of the child tax credit. Low- and moderate-income families will receive $3,000 annually per child, or $3,600 per child under age 6, likely paid out in monthly installments. Perhaps most important, families will receive these “child allowances” even if they have zero tax liabilities. In effect, that means the credit will benefit the very poorest children, who had previously been excluded even though their families could use the cash the most. The child allowance isn’t the only way the law aims more fiscal firepower at kids. It also allocates $39 billion to shore up the nation’s struggling child-care facilities, for instance, bringing the total additional funding appropriated over the past year for child care to about $50 billion. “This is the biggest investment in child care since World War II,” said Center for Law and Social Policy executive director Olivia Golden, who developed a number of child-centered federal programs during the Clinton administration. The new law will deliver other important infusions, too. It appropriates $1 billion for Head Start and $170 billion for public schools. There’s money for nutritional programs for school children, infants and pregnant women. And it expands eligibility for some other kinds of benefits so that more children and young adults could be included — for example, by allowing children who are U.S. citizens to qualify for stimulus checks even if both their parents are undocumented.
FOR DEMOCRACY TO STAY, THE FILIBUSTER MUST GO: It is hard to imagine a more fitting job for Congress than for members to join together to pass a broadly popular law that makes democracy safer, stronger and more accessible to all Americans. Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1. The bill, a similar version of which the House passed in 2019, is a comprehensive and desperately needed set of reforms that would strengthen voting rights and election security, ban partisan gerrymandering, reduce big money in politics and establish ethics codes for Supreme Court justices, the president and other executive branch officials. The legislation has the support of at least 50 senators, plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden is on board and ready to sign it. So what’s the problem? Majority support in the Senate isn’t enough. In the upper chamber, a supermajority of 60 votes is required to pass even the most middling piece of legislation. That requirement is not found in the Constitution; it’s because of the filibuster, a centuries-old parliamentary tool that has been transformed into a weapon for strangling functional government. Bipartisan cooperation and debate should be at the heart of the legislative process, but there is little evidence that the filibuster facilitates either. The filibuster doesn’t require interparty compromise; it requires 60 votes. It says nothing about the diversity of the coalition required to pass legislation. It just substitutes 60 percent of the Senate for 51 percent as the threshold to pass most legislation. If the Senate was designed to be a place where both parties come together to deliberate and pass laws in the interest of the American people, the filibuster has turned it into the place where good legislation goes to die. John C. Calhoun, a senator from South Carolina, used it as a means to protect the interests of slavers like himself from a majority. From its beginnings through the middle of the 20th century, when segregationists like Senator Strom Thurmond, also of South Carolina, used the filibuster to try to kill multiple civil rights bills, the pattern has been clear: It has been used regularly by those who reject inclusive democracy.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
HARVEY RICHMOND: STOP DUKE ENERGY FROM BUILDING MORE GAS POWER PLANTS: We are in a climate crisis, yet Duke Energy’s long-range plan calls for business as usual in terms of providing electricity to customers over the next 15 years. Despite Duke’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) leans toward building a dozen or so new gas-fired plants, threatening our climate and raising rates. Locking in more fossil fuel-based plants doesn’t make climate or economic sense. I urge the N.C. Utilities Commission to send Duke’s IRP back to the drawing board with instructions to look seriously at greater energy conservation and adoption of more solar and wind energy. Many North Carolina municipalities and counties have adopted resolutions that call for 100% clean energy by 2050, and a vast majority of citizens support this goal. The Utilities Commission needs to act to protect the public’s interest.
ALICE WIETING: THE MONEY SPENT ON THE MILITARY HASN'T PROVIDED REAL SECURITY: In spite of all the money we have spent on our vast military, it has not protected us from COVID-19 nor violent insurrection. Homeland Security stated in September 2020 that “the greatest terrorist threat to the homeland through 2021” is from “white supremacist extremists.” Our bloated Pentagon budget fuels a military dominance plan that is outdated and blocks the cooperation needed to deal with climate change and the pandemic. It continues to bleed our communities of vital funds and makes it hard to revitalize our democracy. With 10 percent of the military budget, $74 billion, we could have money for schools, COVID-19 tests and treatment, PPEs, infrastructure, veterans’ care, clean energy, healthcare and housing. This would create many jobs. It would also help all Americans and ease the economic tensions that fuel racism. We spent $6.4 trillion on wars because we wanted access to Middle East oil when we could have developed safe clean energy for the same dollars and saved countless lives and protected the environment. President Biden has raised hopes around the world by pledging to put diplomacy first, end United States participation in the war against Yemen, extend the New START nuclear treaty and re-establish the Iran nuclear deal. Biden has the chance to make a powerful new start without demonizing Russia and China and invoking new conflicts.
CHERYL MITCHELL-OLDS: THE TIME TO PROTECT AND EXPAND OUR VOTING RIGHTS IS NOW, BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: After failing to win the White House in 2020, more than 250 laws in 43 states have been proposed to restrict voting. We just had an election that brought the highest number of people to the polls, in one of most secure elections in U.S. history. Given this, does anyone wonder why Republican statehouses across the country are proposing legislation to make it harder for people to vote? Perhaps because the election brought more black and brown people to the polls? The “need” for all of these restrictive laws is cloaked in the argument of fighting fraud at the ballot box. This argument has been debunked repeatedly, even by investigations carried out under the last administration. The Senate needs to stand with the House in rolling back barriers to voting. Expanding access to the polls is what we do in a democracy. A democracy only functions when all of the voices are heard.