NC JUSTICE NEWS: Meet the Staff - Ricky Leung + Defenders of Justice 2014 + Affordable Care Act

April 1, 2014

MEET THE STAFF: Ricky Leung, New Media Director of NC Policy Watch

Ricky Leung discovered a love of photography during his first year in high school, but not in the dark room—rather, in a chemistry lab. The honors class required students to do an application of chemistry as their final project, and Ricky chose photographic processes. He examined the chemicals used in developing prints, and can still remember how the chemical reaction between silver halides and light results in an exposed photograph. That project led to photography classes, the school newspaper, and finally a journalism camp at UNC. He fell in love with photography, journalism, and UNC, in that order, and a new media journalist was born.

Now the New Media Director of NC Policy Watch, Ricky’s first gig as a journalist was with the Daily Tar Heel on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus as a student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. But that position, and everything that followed, almost didn’t happen. He applied to the Tar Heel on his first day of college, carefully amassing clips in a professional portfolio. The paper was selective, and Ricky’s heart sank when his name was missing on the list of newly assigned reporters, designers, and photographers outside of the newspaper offices. He went back into speak to the photo editor to get his portfolio back, only to learn his name had been accidentally left off the list.

“If I hadn’t asked for my portfolio back, I would have been at the Daily Tar Heel, and wouldn’t be where I am now,” Ricky says. Web design and multimedia classes at UNC followed. Ricky secured web design positions with National Geographic and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, after college but soon North Carolina was calling to him. Born in Hong Kong, Ricky spent much of his childhood and teenage years in Greensboro, and had come to think of North Carolina as home. The job at NC Policy Watch came at just the right time.

“Even when I was [in DC], I really wanted to be here,” Ricky says. “I came home every other month. Even people in DC saw my connection to North Carolina… when I finally accepted a job here, I told my friends in DC and they said, ‘Finally! We can stop hearing about North Carolina.”

Working at NC Policy Watch has reinforced his love for the state, Ricky says, as he’s learned a great deal that he hadn’t learned throughout his years in the Tar Heel state. Journalism jobs can have that effect. Ricky remembers working at the Greensboro News & Record as a college intern and learning more about the city and county in a single summer than he had over the last 10 years. Now he experiences that every day at NC Policy Watch on the state level, as the Policy Watch team aims to make a change in the place they call home.

“Another part of the job I love is the connection to social justice,” Ricky says. He worked at the in the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center during his time in DC, which aims to ensure that Asian-Pacific Americans are represented in museum programming and public life. “It was almost like social justice in the museum world – fighting for equal representation.”

One of Ricky’s passions at NC Policy Watch has been causes related to the Asian American community here in North Carolina. “Since 2010, we’ve been one of the states with the fastest growing Asian American communities in the country,” Ricky says. “And here we have the flexibility to work on projects that fuel our individual passion.”

NC Policy Watch’s reach and impact sometimes shows itself in non-traditional ways. Ricky can remember looking back at user comments on the blog during his first year with the website, and seeing a commenter—a veteran—who lacked health and dental coverage, and was in a great amount of pain. Ricky had read about a program that offered free dental care to veterans at a certain income level, and relayed the information to the commenter. A few days later, the man was on his way to a dentist.

“We’re putting information out there that people might not know or be misinformed about,” Ricky says. “If they know about the policies and what they’re doing, they could lead a better life.”

NC Policy Watch has become a go-to source for North Carolinians looking for policy information in the state. You can help Ricky and the rest of NC Policy Watch continue their work by making a donation today.

DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE 2014: Buy your ticket today!

Mark your calendars!  This year’s Defenders of Justice (DOJ) Awards will be held on Tuesday, April 22, at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

Purchase tickets and learn more about sponsorship opportunities here. We are pleased to announce an incredible slate of honorees for this year.

  • Legislative & Administrative Advocacy
    Congressman G.K. Butterfield voiced strong support for unemployment benefits for laid off workers, expansion of Medicaid to cover more uninsured families, and held numerous town halls for citizens to learn about the Affordable Care Act.
  • Policy Research & Advocacy
    Planned Parenthood in North Carolina mobilized and led a coalition of groups and individuals fighting for reproductive justice for women bringing constant attention to the reproductive rights debate in our state.
    League of Women Voters – Piedmont Triad organized its members and the public in fights for voting rights, campaign finance reform, and immigration reform among many other issues, and they championed a campaign for health care access through the Affordable Care Act.
    League of Women Voters – Charlotte-Mecklenburg, much like their counterparts in the Triad, also focused tremendous attention and advocacy around the changes in the state’s tax structure and state budget, fighting for progressive tax reform and investments in the state’s future.
  • Litigation
    Mona Lisa Wallace, partner in the Salisbury law firm of Wallace and Graham, has long fought against predatory lenders and payday loan operators who have trapped low and middle class families in unscrupulous loans. She has been a leading litigator fighting for workers who have been harmed by unsafe workplaces.
  • Grassroots Empowerment
    NC MomsRising taps into the power of mothers who feel underrepresented and disempowered by providing presentations about issues such as how education cuts will harm our children, and what rights mothers have in the workplace.
    NC Raise Up is leading efforts for a living wage for fast food workers in the state and bringing attention to the struggles they have to make ends meet, while noting that the government must often provide them with benefits because of their low wages and poor working conditions.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: NC at front of pack, despite no Medicaid expansion

The deadline to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has come and gone, and early results make one thing clear: the law has been a great success here in North Carolina.

Enrollment numbers have exceeded expectations. As of March 1, more than 200,000 North Carolinians had already enrolled, succeeding the March 31 goal of 191,000. This is a huge feat, particularly given early website issues and the fact that North Carolina lawmakers continue to argue against expanding Medicaid to a half-million low-income North Carolinians who so desperately need it. Last year, Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly chose to not expand Medicaid to those with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty line. In turn, our state is now among a minority of 24 states who aren't receiving Medicaid expansion funding, although some are moving towards reversing their decision.

As the 2014 General Assembly session nears, the question of whether to accept the federal Medicaid dollars likely will be debated again. The success of the Affordable Care Act in North Carolina—evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who enrolled in coverage, even in struggling and rural areas—only makes lawmakers' decision last year all that more glaring. The success is only tainted by the ACA's currently limited reach in our state. By expanding Medicaid, 69% of uninsured North Carolinians would have a path to coverage; as it stands, only 38% have a path as long as the continues to refuse federal funding. The state is losing money, and putting its most vulnerable residents at risk.

STATE OF THE ECONOMY: Many unemployed have given up search for work

North Carolina's jobless rate fell to 6.4 percent in February, but the reasons behind that drop are not cause for celebration.

Over the last year, just 4 out of 10 formerly unemployed workers actually found jobs, while the rest dropped out of the labor force. Since the unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed people by the number of those in the labor force, the unemployment rate can go down if the labor force shrinks, even when there are still many people out of work. Unfortunately, this means that our dropped unemployment rate, which should be a cause for celebration, is anything but.

As economist Dean Baker pointed out at an NC Policy Watch event last week, unemployment data across the U.S. and in North Carolina confirms things aren't going to significantly improve overnight. Nationally, employment numbers are still weak, and the fall in unemployment can largely be attributed to unemployed workers abandoning their search, as also seen here in the Tar Heel state. Not only is a low unemployment rate good for the economy because it means more people have jobs, it also gives workers a chance to bargain for better wages and benefits. Overall, jobs and wages would be vastly improved by a lowered unemployment rate.

Unfortunately, for now it seems that North Carolina's employment growth is failing to meet the needs of our unemployed workers, negatively affecting the state's economy as a whole. In order for North Carolina to see a healthy, long-term recovery in employment, our state's jobless workers need to find employment. Better yet, they need to find better employment—jobs that pay enough for workers to support their families and communities.

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