NC JUSTICE NEWS: The Importance of Nonprofits + Prisons as Mental Hospitals + The Battle for Unemployment Benefits

October 19, 2010

North Carolina relies on nonprofit organizations to provide services such as assistance with food and shelter, environmental preservation, community and economic development, and post-secondary financial aid. But this year, state grants to nonprofits have plummeted more than 25 percent—from $490 million in fiscal year 2008-09 to $363 million in fiscal year 2009-10.

The 2009 Recovery Act included money for nonprofits so those organizations could continue providing services to families most in need during the recession. But that funding disappears next year.

Millions of North Carolinians depend on nonprofits for help as they struggle with joblessness and other economic pressures. And nonprofits employ about 400,000 people in this state—almost a tenth of the total workforce. Sustaining state grants to nonprofits in North Carolina in the years ahead will help to ease the pain of the Great Recession and its aftermath while preserving thousands of jobs for individuals working to improve the lives of millions of North Carolinians.

STATE EITC: Helping 800,000 NC families through tough times
North Carolina’s Earned Income Tax Credit—only two years old—is helping hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians stay afloat in these tough economic times.

A new report from the Justice Center’s NC Budget & Tax Center shows that more than 800,000 North Carolinians claimed the state EITC in tax year 2008 to the tune of $59 million. That’s money that not only helped low-income working families meet their basic needs, but also stimulated local economies, as families likely spent those EITC dollars quickly and close to home.

Families who get the federal EITC are eligible for the state EITC, which was worth 3.5% of the federal credit in 2008 and goes up to 5% this year. But in 2008, some 60,000 North Carolinians who received the federal EITC did not claim the state credit. Clearly, more outreach to families is needed.

FORECLOSURE: More incentives for banks to work with homeowners
Numerous large banks have enacted a foreclosure freeze, and attorneys general from all 50 states are investigating whether their residents were victims of improper foreclosure processes.

In most cases, these faulty and even illegal processes were paperwork shortcuts—that means the homeowners were likely in default on their mortgages. But with the shortcuts, foreclosure was so easy and so cheap for banks that they had no incentive to work with homeowners to help them keep their homes. That may change, now that the public and public officials are on to the scheme.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explaining how a federal moratorium on foreclosures could help homeowners, said on NPR this weekend: "The banks are trying to do everything on the cheap, which is understandable from their prospective. But what that means is that they're not thinking as much as they should be about modifications, doing things to keep people in their home. And if you say, 'Look, no, you gotta do things right. You have to file the paperwork, you're going to have to trace down the title and make sure everything's done right. And if that adds two, three, four thousand [dollars], that's the way it goes.' And if that's the case, then the bank might look much more seriously at the prospect of modifying the loan in a way that allows the person to stay there."

MENTAL HEALTH: NC houses mentally ill in prisons, not hospitals
A new report from Wake County's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness includes one of the most shocking statistics we've heard in a quite a while: "If you are severely mentally ill in NC, odds are 8 to 1 that you will be in a prison bed instead of a state psychiatric hospital bed."

The report shows that the number of people with serious mental illness in North Carolina's prisons and jails is now more than six times higher than those in state psychiatric hospitals. And the planned closure of Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Hospital promises to exacerbate this crisis.

Instead of providing its citizens with the care they need, North Carolina is locking them up with violent offenders, denying them treatment and leaving them vulnerable to abuse. And at the moment, the state has no plan and has demonstrated no commitment to fixing the problem. The situation is truly disgraceful.

HEALTH REFORM: Forum this Thursday in Hendersonville
Join Adam Linker of the Justice Center's Health Access Coalition for a forum entitled, "Healthcare Reform – Myths vs. Truth," this Thursday, October 21, in Hendersonville. The event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Henderson County, will be held at the Chamber of Commerce from 7pm - 9pm.
JUVENILE JUSTICE: Forums in three cities this month
North Carolina puts all 16- and 17-year-old offenders straight into the adult criminal justice system. Action for Children NC is partnering with parents, advocates and services providers for community discussions around the issue of raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18.
They will be holding forums this month in the following cities:
  • Durham: Saturday, October 23; 2:00-5:00 pm; Durham Public Library, 300 North Roxboro Street
  • Wilmington: Monday, October 25; 5:30-7:30 pm; Wilmington Downtown Library, 210 Chestnut St.
  • Asheville: Thursday, October 28; 5:30-7:00 pm; offices of Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice, 218 Patton Avenue
In addition, there will be a 5K Walk/Run for Juvenile Justice Awareness in Greensboro next Saturday.
UNEMPLOYMENT: The fight for a new benefits extension is underway
Millions of America’s unemployed job-seekers will be cut off from existing federal jobless benefits starting November 30 unless Congress takes action to extend those benefit programs through 2011. These expanded benefits have helped keep nearly 8 million jobless workers and their families going while they look for work in a tough economy. Combined with state benefits, the expanded federal unemployment insurance programs kept an estimated 3.3 million Americans out of poverty last year alone.
Advocates for workers anticipate the next fight to continue the federal unemployment insurance programs with be even harder than the last fight. The National Employment Law Project is launching a new campaign to organize workers, both employed and unemployed, who recognize that plunging millions of people into poverty will have a devastating effect on the nation's economic recovery. If you're interested in this campaign, check out the NELP's new website and sign the petition.
Research & Publications: