I am reminded of a story of a farmer who cut the rations to his horse in half every day. One day the animal died and a neighbor asked the owner what he thought and the reply was, “Darn, I about had him weaned down to nothing.”
And so it is for the poor in our state.
The General Assembly has decided to declare war not on poverty, but on the poor. When I reference the legislature, I am referencing it as a body only; our five legislators — Sen. David Walters and Reps. Garland Pierce, Charles Graham, Ken Goodman and Ken Waddell — have steadfastly voted for programs that are not hurtful to the disadvantaged, who encompass much of our area. You would think we might have to put a poor person in the museum so that we will remember what one looked like, except the actions taken by our representatives ensure that they multiply. Besides the traditional poor, their ranks have been swelled by military veterans being recently discharged and college graduates who cannot find employment as well as those who work at the minimum wage level. Two of my kids fall in this category, but fortunately they have health coverage under the Affordable Care Act — parental coverage up to age 26.
So let us look at this proud scorecard. First to be axed were unemployment benefits. Remember we live in an era where there are three job seekers for every vacancy statewide; in Robeson, the ration is worse. So length of coverage was cut from 26 weeks to 12 to 20 weeks and maximum benefits were cut by more than $200 weekly. It also means that North Carolina will turn back $780 million federal funds for an extension for long-term unemployed individuals — 170,000 people affected. Perhaps the legislator from Lincolnton who was on unemployment for more than a year before being appointed to fill a legislative vacancy deserves the title of Capt. Disingenuous as he cast his vote to curtail the program he had just benefited from.
The legislature has passed a bill that would prevent expansion of Medicaid in the state. This despite a fiscal analysis that shows the expansion would save the state up to $124 million per year for the first three years, and create 25,000 new jobs by 2016. I thought they were all about job creation. Looking at the Child Health Report Card, it is noted that the percent of children in poverty went up by 28 percent% from 2006 to 2011 for children 5 and under and 27 percent for all children under age 18. More than one-fourth of all the children in North Carolina live in poverty, and the number is higher in Robeson.
Next on the block is the Earned Income Credit, which one out of five North Carolina tax filers — 906,000 — claim. Robeson leads the state with nearly 42 percent of its tax filers claiming this deduction — money being spent at restaurants and grocery stores or down payments. The House has voted to let this expire at the end of 2013. Oddly enough, President Ronald Reagan supported it as a way to reward hard work so it is not a liberal concept.
Nowhere will the aftershocks of these actions be felt more than in Robeson County. The Medicaid expansion declination means that the people who qualify for Medicaid financially but not categorically will be seeking care at facilities similar to what occurs now. The difference is that hospitals and other providers will not be compensated for indigent care because the federal government assumes everyone is now covered. That money will go towards financing the expansion as will grants for maternity, child health and family planning that health departments and others receive because, again, everyone except the undocumented is supposed to be covered. Is the state going to assist? That is not their mindset. Will the counties have to step in? In the poor counties, not likely. It really makes no sense.
The poor, there but for the grace of God go you and I. This childhood lesson has been forgotten by many. I thank our legislative delegation for remembering that adage.
Bill Smith is director of the Robeson County Health Department.