By Michelle Hughes, Executive Director
2016 is a big election year in North Carolina—voters will chose their next Governor, U.S. Senator, Attorney General, state legislators, and a number of other offices important to the future of our state’s children. These races will affect our children’s lives in ways the presidential races can’t, because they affect our state’s budgetary priorities and state policies.
As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, we don’t engage in electoral politics and don’t endorse specific candidates, but we do care an awful lot about what candidates have to say about children and the issues that affect them.
So far, they’re not saying much.
Aside from funding for public schools, which has become a divisive, high-profile partisan issue, candidates for elected office in North Carolina are not talking about children. That’s a shame, because our kids’ and our state’s future depend on how well we prepare our next generation.
So, to the candidates for North Carolina’s elected offices, here are two big issues that some of you might be talking about, but not why they are important to children. We filled in the blanks for you below:
Family Economic Opportunity—Children living in financially secure families are more likely to succeed in school, stay healthy, and achieve economic self-sufficiency as adults. Unfortunately, half of all North Carolina children (1.12 million) live in low-income families. (“Low-income” is defined as having an annual income of $48,500 or less for a family of four).
We believe that hard work and personal responsibility are critical for economic well-being, but we also recognize that all North Carolinians need opportunity and support to thrive. Most parents in low-income families are employed, but low wages, a lack of affordable housing, and expensive child care make it tough to meet the basic needs of their families.
We hope candidates will begin talking about these challenges and potential policy solutions, like providing low-income working parents with refundable tax credits and expanding access to child care vouchers.
Closing the Coverage Gap—North Carolina’s elected officials have the opportunity to provide affordable health insurance to over 500,000 adults who are stuck in the coverage gap with no good way to get health insurance. Thousands of these people are parents with children at home, and most of them are working, but they cannot afford to buy health insurance on the prevailing wages in industries such as retail, construction, or food service. Their incomes are too low to purchase health insurance in the private marketplace and too high to qualify for Medicaid.
North Carolina can make its own affordable plan to close the coverage gap. Other states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia have done it and we can, too.
If we close the coverage gap for adults, we will improve the health and well-being of our state’s children. By providing health coverage to women of child-bearing age, we will reduce the risk of infant mortality; by insuring the whole family, we will diminish the risk of catastrophic medical debt; and, by covering parents, we will help cut the uninsured rate for North Carolina children. (This phenomenon has occurred in other states that have expanded coverage for adults).
Strengthening family income and health care are the two most significant things we can do to help kids in North Carolina. Anybody who aspires to lead our state needs big ideas about these issues and they need to talk about them. For our children’s sake, let’s hope candidates leave behind the partisan sound bites and start talking about the issues that really matter to our children.