Local vocal: McCrory ideology hurts Triad residents

We haven't had space to run this 'Local vocal' taking on Gov. Pat McCrory's Medicaid and unemployment policies, so here it is. Chip Roth is a representative of Teamsters Local 391, North Carolina's largest private-sector union, which is based in Greensboro. He is also a registered lobbyist for the union in Raleigh. In the Triad, Teamsters work for UPS, the Guilford County and Forsyth County public schools, Johnson Controls in Winston-Salem, Gilbarco in Greensboro and the MillerCoors brewery in Eden.

Two recent developments provide real guidance on the question of which Pat McCrory will govern NC.

Will it be the pragmatic mayor of Charlotte, who reached across party lines to build a vibrant city and an economic powerhouse?

Or, will it be the hard-charging candidate, who ravaged his hobbled Democratic opponent while taking big money from right wing Republicans?

So far, candidate McCrory controls. Ideology, not practicality, rules. And, too many people in the Triad will be hurt.

In two of his earliest steps, Gov. McCrory walked away from huge funds available to NC from the federal government. Taking this money would have provided real help to some of NC’s most vulnerable citizens, and would have created badly needed jobs in our state.

Gov. McCrory‘s first move was to slash benefits for the unemployed. He and the Republicans made the biggest cuts in U.S. history to any state’s unemployment program.

Earnings of $37,000 a year or more currently make an unemployed worker eligible for the top NC benefit. This rate of $530 per week will be cut by one-third to $350 in July. Another severe cut reduces the length of time that the unemployed can receive payments. This will go from 26 weeks to a sliding scale between 12-20 weeks, depending on NC’s unemployment rate. However, the unemployed are currently out of work an average of 36 weeks.

These cuts will mean real pain for many in the Triad. NC has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation. In Guilford County, the rate is 9.2 % with nearly 25,000 collecting benefits. In Forsyth County it is 8.8% and nearly 16,000.

Everyone knows a family member, a friend or a neighbor who is looking for work. Too many are raiding retirement funds, if they have any, to make ends meet.

Some changes were necessary. We are one of 35 states that had to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits during the Great Recession. Now, we must pay off this $2.5 billion debt.

I had a front row seat to see this financial disaster unfold. In 2009, Governor Perdue appointed me to serve as a Commissioner on the state’s Employment Security Commission. I saw the debt pile up as 400,000 in NC lost their jobs from 2008-2011.

Here is how our big debt was created: state legislators caved into pressure from the Chamber of Commerce in the 1990’s to cut the rates that businesses pay into the unemployment program. Companies got a great deal – about 19,000 NC employers pay nothing into the system today.

Back in the 90’s, we had reserves of $1.6 billion in NC’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. But, the legislature converted it into a pay-as-you-go system, without reserves. The Fund was broke when the Great Recession hit. Now we must pay.

McCrory’s approach is not only unfair, it is unwise. It means that 170,000 unemployed NC workers will lose federal benefits starting in July. This will cut $780 million out of our state economy.

The next big issue where McCrory bowed to ideology instead of helping people involves health insurance.

There are 1.5 million people in NC who do not have medical coverage. The goal of “Obamacare” was to help all Americans get health insurance.

The new law envisioned covering most of the uninsured under “exchanges” where people would get subsidies to help pay for coverage. But, not everyone could afford this approach. Obamacare sought to expand coverage to those who make under $15,000 a year through an expansion of Medicaid.

However, Gov. McCrory and the Republicans are turning down the federal funds offered to expand Medicaid in NC. This will leave 500,000 people without coverage.

It is a big mistake. The federal government would have paid the entire cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years. The state would have paid only 7%, or $830 million, in the first six years. 
Meanwhile, the Feds would have poured $20 billion into our state during this time, creating better health and real jobs.

Access to health insurance and primary physician care are critical parts of healthy living. Those without coverage are 25% more likely to die, according to a major Harvard study. Infant mortality is also higher in families that don’t have insurance. Enrolling 5000,000 uninsured people would save about 2,840 lives in NC each year.

The impact on the Triad is big. In Guilford County, about 59,250 people would have gotten coverage. In Forsyth County, the number is 42,000.

Only the most radical of rightwing governors are refusing to expand Medicaid. Even hard-liners like Kasich in Ohio, Scott in Florida and Brewer in Arizona have the commonsense to take the deal. None have slashed unemployment benefits as deep as McCrory’s cuts.

We need better judgment, and less ideology, from our Governor.

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