Check here for regular updates and postings from CJJ members and associates on issues of social justice!
The Federal Budget Debate: What Does it Mean for NC Children & Families?
Terry Grunwald, CJJ Wake
How much do Jewish North Carolinians know about the impact of last week’s hastily crafted “tax scam” on the welfare of our state? A panel co-sponsored by the Child Advocacy Network and the Budget and Tax Center served up some bad news. It’s no surprise that the recent tax bill represents extremely poor economic outcomes for North Carolina. The most obvious result is worsening income equality - averaging $5000 in cuts for the top 1% and only $290 for low and middle income households. Plus, it is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 families in the latter group will actually see their taxes go up. (See 3 Reasons Why the US Senate’s Tax Plan is Bad for North Carolina).
The bigger threat, however, is the fact that it is a 2-step process: first the outrageous tax cuts, with the devastating budget cuts not far behind. The estimated $1.4 trillion budget shortfall will trigger massive cuts in programs and services to NC families in order to address the deficit.
Based on the blueprint of previous budget proposals by Congressional leadership, here are just a few of the programs that currently benefit low and middle income families that can expect drastic cuts or could be completely abolished:
1. Hunger prevention. (SNAP, WIC, school lunch, and 21st Century Learning Communities). For example, 700,000 NC children benefit from SNAP, which provides food security.
2. Early childhood services. 75% of programs are federally financed.
3. Housing assistance. Reduction of tax rates for corporations and the wealthy will devalue the low income housing tax credit (even if the credit itself survives) – essentially gutting the program, which enables up to 90% of new affordable housing. Plus housing choice vouchers for the poor will be at risk.
4. Strong communities. The community development block grant and the HOME programs, which support neighborhood revitalization and water and sewer projects, has been targeted for complete elimination – a projected loss to NC of over $100 million.
5. Health Care. Federal funding for children’s health has already ended and reauthorization is not assured. 1.1 million children could be affected. Expect early intervention programs to be decimated. And seniors will also be affected: $25 billion nationally in Medicare cuts will be triggered the first year. The elimination of the individual mandate will likely increase ACA premiums for older adults in NC by over $1500/ year – one of the highest rates in the country.
And these are just a sample of what we can expect.
Studies have shown that tax cuts really don’t help the economy, but the budget cuts that invariably follow really are painful – especially for the most vulnerable in our state. Be mindful and watch for these cuts. They’re coming.
13th Movie Showing + Panel
Emma Cohn, CJJ West
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." - Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution
On December 4th, the ACLU of North Carolina and the Western North Carolina branch of Carolina Jews for Justice hosted a showing of the Ava DuVernay documentary 13th at the Altamont Theatre in downtown Asheville, followed by a panel discussion by black activists and community workers. The movie 13th focuses on the evolution of the prison system in the United States, specifically in relation to how the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution has legalized and institutionalized slavery through the criminalization of black communities. The oft-ignored middle clause that allows slavery “as punishment for crime” set in motion over a hundred years of racial oppression and exploitation.
Preceded by a short introduction and explanation of the unshown section of the movie by CJJ member Peretz Cohn, the showing of 13th was abridged, starting with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. The movie covered how early crime policies set forth by Clinton such as mandatory minimum sentencing and the infamous Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 created an explosion in the US prison population. Between the years of 1990 and 2000, the crime population nearly doubled, skyrocketing from 1,179,200 to 2,015,300 people. These measures that legalized and made official the wars on drugs and crime declared by Nixon and Reagan disproportionately targeted Black citizens and by 2001, over 40% of the prison population was black. The film discusses the impact this had on the black community, and how generations of potential leaders for change have been silenced through the prison and law enforcement systems.
13th also dives into the topic of prison labor. The prison-industrial system is a complex legislative and corporate system in which many private companies profit greatly off of higher inmate numbers. Whether this is through private prison building contracts, supply contracts for services like food or health care, or even the use of prisoners for extremely cheap labor, there are billions of dollars invested in maintaining high prison populations. This feeds higher arrest rates and distinctly targets low-income communities, many of which are typically communities of color.
The repercussions of this system, a system that arrests for money and targets black people, have not only disrupted generations. Equally as important is the impact on the individual, which cannot be overstated. Once a person has been convicted of a crime, even after he or she has served his sentence and is no longer legally allowed to be enslaved, the convict loses the right to vote and in the vast majority of cases has a far harder time getting a job, steady housing, or any social governmental benefits. Oftentimes, this forces the person back into crime as the only option to stay afloat. After realizing this, one can only ask, is this a flaw of the system or a strategic move to perpetuate it?
The movie also discusses the issues of bail, advancements in imprisonment technology, the impact of lobbying from major corporations, and the current movement of Black Lives Matter. Clocking in at over an hour and forty minutes long, at times it feels the film is still only scraping the surface. It’s a series of interconnected issues that beg for further discussion. And so in many ways, the panel that followed this showing felt more a necessity than anything else. The panel was composed of three prominent members of the Buncombe County community: DeWayne Barton, the founder of the local organization Hood Huggers International; Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad, a professor at Warren Wilson and leader of the educational Inside-Out program at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women; and Stephen Smith, a convicted felon who spent sixteen years in prison and now runs MS Lean Landscaping, a company that employs ex-convicts in order to help them get back on their feet after jail. Panelists discussed issues such as how the gentrification affects the black and low-income community in Asheville, how legislation can (or cannot) solve the issues of systemic racism in America, and what it actually looks like to return to society after spending time in jail. Although it did not last long, the discussion that happened opened up many new lines of inquiry and thought.
Today more than ever there is a need for events and discussions like this. Although the three panelists were black, the vast majority of audience members were white. At a time when political polarization is higher than ever, money is the driving force in policy creation, and we cannot rely on our legislators for laws that will act on behalf all people, gaps must be bridged between historically separated groups; it is critical that we come together and listen to one another. This event created a space where I felt real listening happened and people left the room with a deeper understanding of an issue that has been plaguing our country since its inception. It is my most sincere wish that the lessons learned on Monday night can and will be transferred out of the Altamont and into the lives of each audience member as we carry on with the noble pursuit of teaching one another to think critically about our nation’s issues and to fight to fix them.