NORTH CAROLINA HEALTH NEWS | Farmer markets around the state will have another month in the busy summer growing season to figure out how to keep accepting food assistance benefits electronically at their stands.
The National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP) announced Thursday it will send a month’s worth of operating funds to technology company Nova Dia Group to keep its MarketLink software running until the end of August, according to a news release sent out Thursday.
The move came just two weeks before 1,700 farmers markets around the county, including 45 in North Carolina, would have to stop accepting the Electronic Benefit Cards (EBT) that many depend on. No permanent solution has been announced.
At farmers markets around North Carolina, the tables are piled high with tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, peaches and more.
But even as the growing season is peaking, some folks who might want to buy will have a harder time bringing those fresh fruits and vegetables home.
That’s because the technology company that currently processes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) benefits at 40 percent of the country’s farmers markets will stop doing so at the end of July.
Left in the lurch in North Carolina are 45 farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets and the low-income customers that use their SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer cards to buy that produce through a purchasing program that runs off of Apple iPads and iPhones, according to Lisa Misch, a program coordinator who works on food access issues for the Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International.
In the waning days of this year’s legislative work session, lawmakers abruptly revived and passed a bill aimed at revising North Carolina’s laws to address the flood of people with mental health crises in hospital emergency departments.
Officials from the state’s hospital association had convened administrators, advocacy organizations, academics, mental health professionals and others over several years to examine some legislative fixes. Those leading that effort say they’ve come up with a bill that will improve processes for people who find themselves in crisis.
“We did this because we were tired of seeing these people, these humans trapped in a system that there really was no escape, this system of [involuntary commitment],” said Julia Wacker who leads mental health policy analysis for the North Carolina Healthcare Association. “This is far too often the way of treatment … stick these folks in handcuffs, put them in a squad car, and take them to the emergency department.”
But trust is hard to come by in North Carolina’s mental health system, and people who have been part of that system as consumers of services say they feel let down by a process that excluded their voices, as many of the state’s most prominent self-advocates were not invited to participate. They say any result will fail to account for the pain they’ve experienced as a result of the state’s fractured behavioral health system.
“They did not tell us about this bill,” said longtime advocate Martha Brock, who has been hospitalized for mental illness in the past.
Brock, who serves on the state Consumer and Family Advisory Committee, which informs the Department of Health and Human Services on behavioral health issues, said that she was frustrated after being shut out of the negotiations around the bill. She also has problems with some of its provisions.
Another longtime advocate Laurie Coker complained that the bill was revived suddenly, moved quickly, and that they were given little time to respond to changes made in the final draft. Both women expressed concern about definitions of “incompetence,” about who gets to make decisions for a person once they’re engaged in the behavioral health system, and about the privacy rights of people in that system.
And their complaints hint at some of the long-standing divisions within the mental health advocacy community itself, as well as the problems that come when institutions communicate with a limited pool of advocates.
NC Civitas | The state budget for FY 2018-19 contains nearly 170 line items totaling $30 million that are highly inappropriate or outright pork.
Appropriations directing funding to local pet projects include items such as walking trails, playgrounds, county fairs and highway signs. Moreover, dozens of nonprofit organizations receive direct appropriations in the budget. Make no mistake, these nonprofits perform admirable work. However, it is highly inappropriate – and unfair favoritism – to single out nonprofits for specific appropriations of state tax dollars, instead of having them go through the appropriate grant process.
There is little doubt that a large percentage, if not all, of these earmarks represent legislators trying to “bring home the bacon” to their districts in an election year. State taxpayers should not be forced to finance explicitly local projects.
Note that the items identified in this article include only adjustments made to the second year of the biennial budget passed last year. There no doubt are many more such earmarks that will be doled out this year that were previously included in last year’s budget.
Legislative leaders have rightly been criticized for the closed-door, non-transparent process used in crafting the budget. It is plausible to believe that these 166 line items were the result of political horse-trading behind closed doors, which left virtually no time for objections from legislators before the House and Senate voted.
Such a significant number of earmarks, while not adding up to a major percentage of the budget in dollar terms, raises legitimate concerns about political patronage in which representatives direct state funds to local projects in exchange for political support.
Below is the list of these items Civitas has identified:
Republican’s school safety plan makes some temporary changes, while giving lawmakers time to assess what else might be needed.
Education NC | Republican lawmakers announced at a press conference last month $35 million in school safety grants that made their way into the revised 2018-19 budget.
The one-time money is meant to temporarily address school safety needs while the state gathers more information on what districts and schools require to protect students.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Dunn). “I think this is an ongoing process.”
The school safety plan stems from work performed by a committee on school safety that came into existence following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and met regularly prior to the short session.
Governor Roy Cooper has his own school safety plan in his budget proposal. It amounts to a total of $130 million, including $65 million for making buildings safer and $40 million for additional personnel. Legislative Democrats also floated a similar plan yesterday.
But Republican lawmakers say it is too soon to know exactly how much money is needed. Part of the ongoing process going forward will be getting reports from districts sent to the state Department of Public Instruction so that legislators can understand what schools require. Rep. Linda Johnson (R-Kannapolis) said additional recurring money needs to be added to the budget in the future.
“Because the issue came up at the time that it came up, and the amount of effort that had to go into it, this is not the end, this is just the beginning,” she said.
The Republicans’ plan also includes between $30 and $90 million in new federal funding for student health, but that will not come until the second year because North Carolina needs a Medicaid State Plan Amendment before it can start collecting the funds. Essentially, the money will come from reimbursements from Medicaid for services the state is already providing.
Longleaf Politics | The latest major court ruling stemming from the General Assembly’s infamous 2016 “power grab”1came on Friday, as the N.C. Supreme Court settled a battle between the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education over direct control of the public school system.
Both the state superintendent and the Board of Education declared victory after the decision. But the ruling is very clearly in favor of the General Assembly and the elected superintendent.
As it turns out, sometimes even a power grab results in clearer public policy.
What was the lawsuit about?
Let’s start all the way at the beginning: the state constitution. It sets up two distinct bodies tasked with public education.
The State Board of Education is directed to “supervise and administer the free public school system.” The Superintendent of Public Instruction, elected statewide every four years, is to “be the secretary and chief administrative officer of the State Board of Education.”
There’s not a whole lot of direction as to how this is to work in practice. That’s mostly been left to the General Assembly, and over the years the pendulum of duties has swung back and forth.
Once it became clear that Cooper would be the new governor, with the right to appoint State Board of Education members, the state legislature decided to tweak the responsibilities of the board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 34-year-old Republican Mark Johnson.
Some of the changes are more technical. Instead of the State Board of Education being in charge of establishing “policy,” it became responsible for “all needed rules and regulations” for North Carolina’s public schools.
The more substantive changes come to the superintendent role. Previously, the job was to run the day-to-day operations of the public school infrastructure “subject to the direction, control, and approval of the State Board.” That phrasing was removed in several places.
While the board remains the policymaking body, the superintendent now has clear responsibility for running the department.
The new deal with state lawmakers that the memo discloses is a little in the weeds. The bill in question is House Bill 500, currently under consideration. It’s an omnibus ABC bill, meaning that it makes a lot of little adjustments to the state’s alcohol laws. It passed the House last April and is now in Senate committees.
The bill got a few new amendments in a Senate committee. One enables wholesale business owners to transfer control of the company to a family member. Previously, this could only be done upon the business owner’s death.
A second new provision ends a practice where big brewers were able to determine who a wholesaler could sell his business to.
Another new provision ends a mechanism where “suppliers” — meaning beer brewers — could own part of a wholesale business for eight years and make business loans to help other companies acquire wholesale businesses.
In all three cases, the changes make North Carolina’s alcohol laws just a little bit more wholesaler friendly. In the third part, that comes at the expense of beer brewers.
The bill passed committee as amended, but must first go to the full Senate and then back to the House now.
All that’s not the interesting part, though. The bill as a whole makes sense. Why should a big beer brewer be able to dictate how a wholesaler sells his business?
The interesting part is how the changes came about.
Longleaf Politics | Hurricane Matthew struck eastern North Carolina on October 9, 2016.
A full 18 months later, some of the first federally funded repairs are slated to begin this June.
Hurricane Matthew has re-emerged as a political issue in Raleigh as thousands of people in eastern North Carolina await public money to rebuild.
The storm was one of the most devastating in North Carolina’s history, killing 31 people and caused more than $4.8 billion in damage. Matthew set rainfall records in 17 counties, and 2,300 people were rescued from floodwaters.
Why is recovery taking so long?
It mostly has to do with the processes set up to distribute the roughly $1.7 billion in recovery aid expected from the federal and state government.
While the initial response from the N.C. National Guard and FEMA came quickly, North Carolina has been in no hurry to distribute money intended for longer-term recovery.
And as it turns out, there’s a huge difference between money that’s been approved — and money that’s actually been used.
The breakdown of funding sources is an alphabet soup of agencies, each with its own policies and mechanisms and hoops to jump through. State governments have incentives to get roads repaired quickly. Homes, not so much.
Here’s a quick explanation of how disaster recovery works. It’s ordered by how quickly money has been distributed.
Now that neighbors to one hog farm have one court victory against the world’s largest pork producer, state legislators are moving to shield hog farms from nuisance lawsuits.
This is not the first time the General Assembly has tightened protections for both livestock growers and the corporations that own the animals they raise. They’ve done it multiple times in recent years, sometimes in direct response to court cases.
The 2018 farm bill, on a fast track for approval in Raleigh this week, would create a statute that says a farm cannot be considered a nuisance in a courtroom if that farm complies with relevant regulations and operates like others in its “region.”
Legislators must take steps to defend an agricultural sector that is so important to North Carolina’s economy, said bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Autryville, who represents Duplin and Sampson counties, the two top hog-selling counties in the United States.
“Our goal is to ensure that all farming operations are protected from frivolous lawsuits,” Jackson said in an email Wednesday. “Due to recent judicial rulings, it has become blatantly obvious that the legislature must take action to clarify our intentions and correct these misguided rulings.”
But one of a team of in-state and out-of-state lawyers representing 500 citizens who are suing Smithfield Foods and alleging nuisances at 26 farms sees it differently.
The General Assembly is taking a highly unusual route toward accomplishing its even-year requirement, a budget adjustment bill.
It’s a little complicated and hard to understand. But the way that House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger are choosing do to things has already drawn strong condemnation from Democrats, who are calling it a “sham” process.
And while the state’s minority party is often hyperbolic and hypocritical in calling out political gamesmanship — this time, they might have a point.
It’s all about November.
Let’s get beyond the finger-pointing. Here is what’s actually happening.
For years, North Carolina officials looked the other way while a rogue drug rehab program exploited people struggling with addiction and put disabled patients at risk.
Recovery Connections Community, a two-year rehab program near Asheville, sent participants to work as unpaid caregivers at adult care homes throughout the state. Participants got little addiction help, but were ordered to work 16-hour days caring for elderly and disabled patients, often with disastrous results.
Jennifer Warren has spent years recruiting the poor and desperate to her drug rehabilitation program in the mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina.
She promised them counseling and recovery for free. When they arrived, she put them to work 16 hours a day for no pay at adult care homes for the elderly and disabled.
Thrust into the homes with little training or sleep, the rehab participants changed diapers, bathed patients and sometimes dispensed the same prescription drugs that sent them spiraling into addiction in the first place.
For some, the temptation proved too great. They snorted prescription pain pills, swallowed droplets of morphine from used medical syringes and peeled fentanyl pain patches off patients and sucked them to get high.
Then there were the allegations of assault. At least seven participants from Warren’s program, Recovery Connections Community, have been accused of sexual misconduct or assault of patients at the homes. Former participants and workers said no one reported the incidents to social services, as required by law. The accused continued working or were simply transferred to another care home.
“There’s a whole lot in the program that’s covered up,” said Charles Polk, who completed Warren’s program in 2017 for alcohol addiction. “The only thing she thinks about is the money.”
More than a week after the arrests of some 40 people in Western and Central North Carolina, additional accusations of improper behavior against federal immigration agents continue to stir tensions.
A lawyer claims agents refused to let him talk with his clients while they were being processed in Hendersonville on April 14.
Also in Hendersonville, immigrant advocates organized a protest at a public park on Friday where federal agents and members of local law enforcement were having a picnic.
In both cases, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency responded with a version of facts or perspectives that challenged the statements made by those criticizing his agency.