“Unmet Needs” should say it all. It’s in the name of the appropriately titled list known as the North Carolina Registry of Unmet Needs, representing people who qualify for government assistance but have waited to receive that assistance for years because of legislative-imposed limitations — and too much politicking.
These are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Some of them can attend college and/or hold down a job — and many do — but they still must rely on parents or other caregivers to function in a healthy fashion.
But caregiving is stressful, hard work and ultimately temporary, when parents die or become incapable themselves. This creates an uncertain, worrisome situation for tens of thousands of North Carolinians.
The people on the list — more than 750 of whom live in Forsyth County and more than 14,000 in North Carolina — could receive assistance in skill building and transitional living through available waiver programs. But while there’s a lot of talk on their behalf, the available resources have been held up over many years by legislators whose attention has been given to other priorities — like corporate tax cuts.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Funding for the needs began declining during the Great Recession, when the Democrats who then controlled the government were trying to balance the budget.
But the Republicans who took over in 2011 haven’t improved the situation. While tax cut upon tax cut has reduced our corporate tax rate from 6.9% in 2013 to 2.5% in 2019 — the lowest in the country for states that have a corporate tax rate — and while we maintain a budget surplus of nearly $900 million, other facets of our communities have suffered. It’s past time to devote some of these economic benefits to the neediest among us.
At a meeting of advocates at the Central Library last Saturday, state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, who chairs the Health Care and Appropriations on Health and Human Services committees, told attendees that the number of people awaiting waivers is “unacceptable.” She said, “Medicaid transformation and an increase in waiver slots is a priority for me. I’m not going to work on anything else.”
We wish her every success. If Krawiec can cut through the political finger-pointing, she’ll be doing everyone in the state a favor. She might start by sitting down with Senate leader Phil Berger, who continues to block Medicaid expansion for nakedly political reasons.
“While Democrats have focused their efforts on expanding socialized medicine via Obamacare Medicaid expansion, Republicans believe that care for people with severe disabilities should be prioritized over taxpayer funding for able-bodied adults,” Berger stated in July 2019.
That statement is just so much blather. The red states that have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare haven’t turned into socialist bastions — and with the strong economy in which Berger otherwise takes pride, there’s no reason to choose among needy groups — including those he describes as “able-bodied adults,” eliciting visions of lazy sluggards sitting at home eating bonbons rather than the working poor who can’t afford medical insurance.
Many of the people on this list are go-getters who want to learn how to be as independent as they can be. They belong to families that pull their own weight and make sacrifices, but still need help.
They’ve been ignored for too long.