This week, the North Carolina House passed their proposal for the state budget. Unfortunately, it’s full of harmful provisions, including attacks on reproductive health care and our elections. The $25.7 billion budget also does not expand Medicaid, throwing away yet another opportunity to extend health insurance coverage to half a million people in our state.
The State Senate has already submitted its budget proposal which includes many of the same bad policies. Now that the House has passed their version, legislative leaders will come together behind closed doors to hammer out the details and present a final product to the governor. Governor Cooper will then have the opportunity to sign the budget or veto their proposal.
Here’s a breakdown of the provisions related to health care and voting rights included (or not included) in both the House and Senate versions of the budget and what they would mean for North Carolinians.
Legislative leadership once again fails to expand Medicaid
North Carolina has an unprecedented opportunity to provide health care to those currently without insurance, but neither the House nor Senate versions of the budget include this critical provision. If the NC General Assembly expanded Medicaid, more than 500,000 North Carolinians would become eligible for the coverage they need to get care for chronic conditions, prevent illness and disease progression, and live healthy, productive lives.
What’s more, expanding Medicaid is one of the most significant steps we can take toward lowering infant and maternal mortality in North Carolina. We currently rank 30th for maternal mortality in the U.S., and Black women here are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts. These disparities will only worsen if we don’t give women access to basic health care coverage, and expanding Medicaid is the way to do that.
The NC General Assembly has again and again rejected federal dollars to expand Medicaid, repeatedly choosing politics over the health of North Carolinians. So far, this year doesn’t look to be any different despite the continued rise in COVID-19 infections and more funding made available through pandemic recovery legislation.
A better budget would enable us to protect the health and well-being of our people and our families. Leveraging new federal funding to increase access to health care should be a no-brainer.
Attacks on reproductive health and freedom
Both the House and Senate versions of the budget include provisions that aim to chip away at reproductive health care (because of course):
Millions of dollars for fake health clinics: The House budget proposal includes $9 million in funding for fake women’s health centers known as “crisis pregnancy centers,” doubling down on the amount included in the Senate version. Crisis pregnancy centers exist for one purpose: to prevent a person from obtaining a safe, legal abortion. They intentionally spread misinformation and outright lies to confuse and manipulate people facing an unwanted pregnancy. They are generally unregulated and unlicensed and target people with low incomes. The NC General Assembly has included state funds for these fake clinics since 2011, but this is by far the most funding they have ever allocated for these anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Deny abortion providers state funding for family planning, pregnancy prevention, and teen parenting programs. There is a provision included in both versions of the budget that prevents "any provider that performs abortions" from receiving state funds for family planning, pregnancy prevention, and teen parenting programs. This provision is a political ploy — and a tired one at that. Anti-abortion lawmakers have attempted to target Planned Parenthood in the state budget since 2011. By including this tactic in this year’s budget, General Assembly leadership is once again disregarding the sexual health needs of North Carolinians in order to score political points. People in our communities, including teenagers, need access to medically accurate, evidence-based information that empowers them to make safe, healthy decisions. Restricting funding for these programs in this way will only harm our children and their futures.
Attacks on elections
The budget proposals include several attacks on North Carolina’s system of election administration and $5 million to implement a racist voter ID law that has been blocked in federal court since early 2020. This is just the latest move made by state lawmakers who want to suppress voter turnout by making it harder for some of our state’s most marginalized voters, particularly people of color and those with low income, to cast a ballot.
Rather than wasting money in an attempt to bolster a discriminatory law that may never go into effect, our immediate funding priorities should meet our state’s existing electoral needs, such as expanding same-day voter registration and extending hours at polling places.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the state, we have far more pressing needs to address in this year’s budget. State lawmakers should leave our elections and our reproductive rights alone and instead invest in health care, education, job training, and affordable housing at a minimum. We need long-term investment in the people of our state, not more tax cuts for corporations. Neither the House nor Senate budget proposals do right by the people of North Carolina. Period.