- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Jan. 11

News & Record, Greensboro, N.C., on enrollment boost:

N.C. A&T;’s plan to increase enrollment mostly with more out-of-state students should be good for the university and for the state. The UNC Board of Governors was wise to approve it as a pilot program Friday.

This is a big move. It exempts A&T; from the UNC system’s rule limiting out-of-state enrollments to 18 percent of each freshman class. A&T; will lift that cap to 25 percent as it boosts overall enrollment from 10,500 to 13,500 over the next five years.

The strongest objection is that state university seats should be reserved primarily for North Carolina residents.

That’s a valid concern. Although no one’s child is guaranteed admission to a UNC system university, the idea is to provide as much access as possible.

Another goal is affordability. North Carolina taxpayers subsidize tuition for in-state students to hold their costs down.

Here’s what out-of-state students bring to A&T;, according to university data:

A four-year graduation rate of 32.8 percent for those entering in 2008, compared to 18.4 percent for in-state students.

A six-year graduation rate of 60.4 percent for those entering in 2006, compared to 37.8 percent.

An average SAT score of 986 for those entering in 2013, compared to 903 for in-state students.

Also, 34 percent of nonresident students who graduated from 2004 to 2009 were reported to be employed in North Carolina. The actual number likely is higher, but A&T; does not have information for 42 percent of graduates.

This means many of A&T;’s brightest students come from other states and stay in North Carolina after they graduate. Raising the enrollment cap will further strengthen the talent level in North Carolina - even as those students pay the full cost of their education rather than rely on taxpayer subsidies.

The university will use that additional revenue for scholarships and efforts to recruit and retain in-state students, Martin said.

Universities can’t insulate themselves from the rest of the world, or financial realities. With state funds shrinking, and states competing for well-educated young workers, A&T;’s plan tackles both issues at once.




Jan. 11

Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram on state too slow to fix NC FAST, NC Tracks:

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is coming under increasing pressure to fix glitches in a pair of computer programs that run the Medicaid billing system and process food stamp applications.

Since their implementation, N.C. FAST and N.C. Tracks have been beset with problems, causing delays in people receiving government assistance and medical providers receiving reimbursement for their services.

Federal regulators recently warned the state that it risks losing federal funds to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, if it does not provide a plan requested in November detailing how it would reduce application and renewal delays that have affected more than 20,000 households across the state.

Problems with the N.C. FAST program also have caused employees of county social services departments to work nights and weekends to try to cut the backlog of qualified applicants waiting for their benefits to be processed.

In addition to the delays in Medicaid payments to medical providers, an error with N.C. Tracks led to Medicaid cards for nearly 49,000 children being sent to the wrong addresses.

The N.C. Tracks program went online in July, about the same time as a software update in N.C. FAST began causing the crush of backlogs in assistance processing. The state has had more than six months to work out the problems with these systems but has shown little progress. It’s long past time for state officials to make a serious and concerted effort to do so.




Jan. 12

Charlotte Observer on a serious failure on the part of the state:

On Oct. 8, Aldona Wos went before legislators and told them not to worry, her Department of Health and Human Services was making excellent progress fixing problems with the state’s food stamp program.

Apparently not.

Newly released letters between Wos and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, show that two months after Wos was painting a rosy picture, the USDA still had serious concerns and tens of thousands of North Carolinians were not being served as they should.

More than 20,000 households were enduring significant delays receiving their food stamps, known as SNAP benefits, and more than 6,000 had waited for more than three months.

“These delays are completely unacceptable and a serious failure on the part of North Carolina,” USDA Regional Administrator Donald Arnette wrote on Dec. 11. “We have grave concerns for the low income people of North Carolina who are waiting for assistance.”

If the state fails to fix the problems, Arnette warned, the feds could cut off administrative funding.

Wos responded through her chief of staff on Dec. 23, assuring Arnette that she was all over it. The hungry people of North Carolina certainly hope so, but Wos’ department has been offering such reassurances for many months.

The food stamp delays go back to at least last summer.

Who suffers? The neediest people in the state. The average household receiving SNAP benefits has a gross income of $744 per month, or $8,928 a year, and most of those households have dependents. The average N.C. household receiving food stamps received $121.85 per month in 2013.

Try spending that much on food for your family per month - then imagine the check showing up two weeks, or four weeks, or 12 weeks late.

A USDA spokesperson told the Observer editorial board Friday that the agency is still reviewing Wos’ Dec. 23 response. The department issued a statement late Thursday saying, “USDA expects North Carolina to take whatever steps are necessary to fix these system issues as quickly as possible and deliver benefits to eligible clients in a timely fashion.”

Wos and Gov. Pat McCrory acknowledge the food stamp backlog is a serious problem; Wos said in September that “even one person not getting the appropriate food is really a human crisis.”

But her track record makes that appear to be mostly lip service. Under Wos, DHHS rolled out a computer program that delayed Medicaid payments to providers and this month violated the privacy of nearly 49,000 Medicaid recipients by sending their information to the wrong addresses.

It is, as Sen. Jeff Tarte told WRAL, “nonsense” and “death by 1,000 cuts.”

How much longer will Gov. McCrory let it go on?



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