- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 4

News & Record, Greensboro, N.C., on poverty:

North Carolina’s metro mayors heard a sobering report when they met in Charlotte last week.

Poverty is a bigger problem for them than it is for the state’s economically distressed small towns and rural areas.

The question is how much help they’ll demand from the state.

William High of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies examined poverty rates, per-capita income and unemployment across the state and labeled 162 census tracts as “severely economically distressed.” Two-thirds of them are in urban areas. Ten of the 11 most severely distressed zones are in cities: the Leonard Avenue area in High Point, the Cumberland Street neighborhood in Greensboro, four tracts in Charlotte, three in Winston-Salem and even one in Raleigh.

Comparing urban to rural poverty finds surprising differences. People in distressed rural areas are more likely to own their homes and a car than those in distressed urban areas. They have higher incomes and lower unemployment. There is less of a racial gap: In rural distressed areas, 45 percent of residents are black, 37 percent are white and 7 percent are Latino. In urban distressed areas, 61 percent are black, 23 percent are white and 12 percent are Latino.

North Carolina’s larger cities generally are doing much better than small towns and rural areas, where declining population and a shrinking tax base add to troubles. But that’s part of what makes the problem of urban poverty more acute.

“Areas of concentrated poverty tend to have higher crime rates, lower housing quality and poor health outcomes,” High’s report says. “With high levels of unemployment, more than 50 percent of children living in poverty, and low levels of education, these tracts offer diminished social and economic opportunity, especially for their younger residents.”

The report also notes that the state has provided programs “aimed at correcting the economic disparity between rural and urban areas.” Efforts to help rural areas include greater funding for schools and public health, and economic development policies that offer greater incentives for businesses that locate or expand in distressed counties.

Yet, many urban areas are more economically distressed.

It’s encouraging that metro mayors have put this problem on their priority list. They should use their resources to bring jobs to distressed areas, reduce crime and attack other social ills.

They also should press their state representatives for help. Decisions to deny expanded Medicaid coverage, flatten school spending and trim unemployment benefits reach deeply into high-poverty communities. Cities can’t compensate for these losses, but they will pay a price for them.

“I wish the legislature would partner with us on some of these issues besides economic development,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said Monday.

It should. The cities are North Carolina’s economic engines, but their future is threatened by these pockets of poverty. Cities, and the state, have a strong interest in spreading prosperity.




March 2

The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C., on the Department of Health and Human Services:

An expensive consultant hired to help the troubled state Department of Health and Human Services money may have had a substantial impact.

Or not.

What is clear - and why it is, charitably, hard to tell exactly what he did - is that Joe Hauck left precious little work product behind.

Months after the Associated Press filed a public records request seeking, as the wire service reported Sunday “all plans, proposals, documents, emails and any other work product authored by Hauk,” DHHS finally responded last week.

The department produced, the AP’s Michael Biesecker reported, “a pair of memos totaling little more than three double-spaced pages. The agency also provided spreadsheets detailing cuts made in state funding to such nonprofit charities as food banks and pre-kindergarten programs that were reportedly developed at Hauck’s direction.”

Hauck’s hiring as a consultant has been controversial from the start. Hired with no bid process, he is a vice president of a company owned by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’s husband. For his 11 months at such tasks as identifying non-profit food banks to be de-funded, the state paid him $310,000 - more, in Biesecker noted, than the annual salary of the department’s highest-paid employee.

In those 11 months, apparently Hauck had little communication with others in the department, at least by email. Those would have been public records, and none was turned over the AP.

Floyd McKissick, a Democrat and state senator from Durham, responded critically to what the state turned over.

“I’m sorely disappointed there is so little work product based upon the state spending over $300,000 for his services,” McKissick told the AP. “One would logically assume there would be a mountain of paperwork he would have been involved in.”

The department defends Hauck’s work. “Working in close collaboration with the secretary, Joe Hauck was involved in many strategic decisions and he led many reform efforts within DHHS,” said department spokesman Kevin Howell.

This latest development over Hauck’s service is just the latest disappointing news out of DHHS. Only monumental efforts to clear up a backlog of unprocessed claims for food-stamp benefits under the SNAP program kept the state from losing federal money. The feds warned the department about the backlog in December and then, early this year, threatened the cutoff if the backlog - which had worsened since the first warning - weren’t eliminated …




March 2

Charlotte Observer on an airport compromise:

“As The Airport Turns” aired another episode last week, the first in a few months, and it was as disheartening and confusing as the ones before it.

When last you tuned in, the city of Charlotte was fighting the legislature’s effort to have an independent commission run its airport. The FAA had punted the question to a local judge, and the judge had punted it back to the FAA.

Robert Stolz, the commission’s chairman, was optimistic in December that the city and legislators could work amicably toward a compromise. On Thursday, those hopes seemed dashed. “It is my opinion that we have now run out of opportunities to settle this,” Stolz told the FAA, “and now need for you to weigh in.”

Mayor Patrick Cannon quickly and publicly rejected that notion: “To my knowledge, Mr. Stolz stands alone in this conclusion, one with which I completely disagree. I do not believe that we have exhausted all options and remain hopeful that City and State leaders can find common ground that is in the best long-term interests of the airport.”

We’re sympathetic to Stolz’s frustration. The city and state were far apart on the airport all of last year, and apparently the two sides haven’t made much progress despite frequent talks the past two to three months. A breakthrough at this point would be surprising.

Still, if Mayor Cannon says the possibility remains for a compromise, we hope he, city officials, legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory will continue to work hard to pursue it. A settlement that all can agree to is likely to be a better outcome than the federal government declaring one side the winner and the other the loser. …



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