By Rob Thompson
House and Senate leaders released their compromise budget proposal yesterday. With a few exceptions, the proposal fails to include important funding and policy changes, including Medicaid Expansion, that are sorely needed to help children and families thrive in North Carolina.
Here’s a quick rundown of what we’re most concerned about:
- Early Childhood Education Funding: More than 30,000 children are on a waiting list for child care subsidies so that parents can work, and kids can get high-quality early education that prepares them to succeed in school. The budget includes only $3.2 M in additional funding for child care subsidies, which will not make a dent in the current waiting list.
- Medicaid Cuts: The budget includes deep cuts to the Medicaid program, and does not fully fund enrollment growth (“rebase”). According to NC DHHS, the budget underfunds Medicaid by more than $60 million, leaving at least $120 million of federal funding on the table. This will undermine the monumental task of transitioning to Medicaid managed care.
- NC DHHS Move: The budget bill moves NC DHHS headquarters from Raleigh to Granville County. We are deeply concerned that this move could lead to hundreds of professional staff leaving NC DHHS. This would jeopardize the basic functioning of our state’s public health system.
- No Medicaid Expansion: The most important policy change legislators can make to support children and families in North Carolina is to expand Medicaid to cover the low-income uninsured. As expected, it was not included in the final budget. The budget bill includes a provision calling for a special session to consider health care access. There is no reason legislators could not have had that debate at any time over the past 6 months, when both Democrats and Republicans have introduced bills to close the coverage gap in the House and Senate.
- Census Funding: The House budget included $750,000 for Census outreach; this funding was left out of the final budget.
Despite some significant shortcomings, there are two pieces of good news in the state budget:
- “Raise the Age” Funding: As the state transitions 16- and 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal justice system into the juvenile justice system, it’s critical for lawmakers to adequately fund the local community programs that help kids get on track. The compromise budget contains a significant increase in funding for community programs ($4.25M in FY20 and $6.67M in FY21), which will be critical to making this transition go smoothly.
- Foster Care Rate Increase: The budget proposal includes $6.9M in new state funding for an increase foster care reimbursement rates. This important funding will help recruit and retain foster parents at a time when the need is at an all-time high.
These critical changes happened because of the persistent advocacy of parents, affected families, clinicians, law enforcement, and child advocates like you. Thank you for speaking up for kids!
The House and Senate will vote on the budget bill today and tomorrow. Given the Republican majority, it is expected to pass, and Governor Cooper will veto it when it lands on his desk. The key dynamic to watch is the margin of the vote. Will there be enough votes to override the Governor’s veto?
If at least 7 House Democrats and 1 Senate Democrat vote for the budget, then that could signify that a veto will not stand. If Democrats stick with Cooper and sustain the veto, Speaker Moore and Pro Tem Berger will decide whether to negotiate with the Governor, or to simply walk away – leaving the state to continue into the next fiscal year by continuing on last year’s budget. Given the current legislative leadership’s affinity for special sessions, we predict that no matter which path they take, they’ll be back in Raleigh again soon.
Rob Thompson is NC Child’s Deputy Director