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Cash Michaels, NNPA from the Wilmington Journal
Published: 04 February 2009

WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) - If recent reports are any indication, people suffering from HIV/AIDS, the elderly and children, and even victims of North Carolina's forced sterilization program, will see the short end of the budget stick after Gov. Beverly Perdue and state lawmakers decide how to make up an estimated $2 billion budget shortfall.
The state NAACP has wasted no time demanding that no matter how bad the deficit, the programs that serve the poor and needy should be protected, not decimated.
''Don't balance the state budget on the backs of the poor,'' Rev. William Barber II, NCNAACP president, read from a letter addressed to Gov. Perdue, House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate President Pro tem Marc Basnight at the civil rights group's winter conference in Durham last Saturday.
''We must say to folks in the state of North Carolina whom we love and have great respect for that you will not ride the coattail of a president of change, and then keep doing business the same old way,'' Rev. Barber continued, reminding all how Perdue and the Democrats owe their recent election victories to the overwhelming black support President Barack Obama attracted to the polls last November.
Barber believes that it would be a double-cross for those same Democratic leaders to now cut the very educational and social programs the black community supports. The NCNAACP and its 85 coalition partners plan to further make their case during their third ''Historic Thousands on Jones Street Rally and March Saturday, Feb. 14 in Raleigh, which is expected to attract an estimated 10,000 supporters.
''We are concerned about the least of these and will they get their fair share of the general funds,'' Rev. Barber said.
But so far, a week after the General Assembly reconvened for its biannual long session, the NC Legislative Black Caucus, led by Democrat Rep. Alma Adams of Guilford County, has said precious little in defense of the programs that serve a good number of the low-income African-American constituencies in caucus members' districts.
Sources close to the black lawmakers say they're holding their fire, if any is to come at all, until various legislative budget committees get a closer look at what Gov. Perdue is proposing to cut.
Many of Perdue's possible reductions may ultimately include not only programs, but also across the board state agency layoffs. Indeed Perdue directed agency heads this week to begin preparing layoff lists in case she ultimately has to pull that budget reduction trigger.
Beyond layoffs, some of the suggested program cuts - cuts that the governor's spokesperson is quoted as saying may not be deep enough - indeed impact vital services for the poor and communities of color across the state.
''We are going to be hit hard,'' said N. Carnell Robinson, president of the NC Black Leadership Caucus, noting that the worst burden is going to be on those programs that provide direct services to the poor.
Some ''reduction options'' already forwarded to the governor, according to the Greensboro News & Record newspaper this week, include reducing $458,850 in funding to the NC Housing Finance Agency, reducing almost a million dollars to the Office of Rural Health; over $2.6 million to the Division of Aging and Adult Services; over $25 million to the NC Division of Child Development; over $2.3 million from the Office of Education Services; over $13 million from the state Division of Public Health, which includes cutting funding from such programs as public assistance to maternity clinics, HIV/STD Prevention-AIDS Drug Assistance program, and local aid to counties; cutting over $16 million from the Division of Social Services; over $224 million from the Division of Medical Assistance; and almost $50 million from the Division of Mental Health, among other suggested cuts.
''This is the worst time for the state to transfer the cost of some of these programs to the local governments,'' Robinson said, noting how Durham Mayor Bill Bell this week warned that unless city employees develop efficiencies, city government may have to also cut services and layoff workers.
Thanks to the global economic downturn, North Carolina is among several states swimming in red ink thanks to lower than expected tax revenue collections.
Things are so tough that the state may have to borrow money from the federal government just to pay out tens of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits to the over 400,000 jobless here.
Gov. Perdue is hoping to get at least $16 billion from the economic stimulus package President Obama got passed in the US House last week, and hopes will fly through the US Senate next, despite staunch Republican opposition.
One of the measures that couldn't come at a worst time is a bill, finally endorsed by the state House leadership, to pay upwards of $19 million in damages to the now elderly victims of the state's forced sterilization program.
An estimated 7,600 poor White and Black teenage girls, deemed many times to be erroneously mentally ill, were sterilization by order of the state between 1929 and 1974 to prevent them for having more children. The practice, upheld by the US Supreme Court, was part of the racist ''eugenics'' program of the early 1920's.
Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem has been a staunch advocate for the victims of the program to be compensated at least $20,000 each by the state for what was done to them, but thus far all he could get was an apology from Gov. Mike Easley in 2003, and state lawmakers to strike the eugenics law from the books thereafter.
There had been stiff resistance to even addressing the reparations issues until Speaker Joe Hackney last year assured Womble that his bill would get fair consideration during a study committee.
House Bill 20, which is now in the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, would become effective in July if passed.
But even though Gov. Perdue had expressed support for helping the sterilization victims during her run for office in January 2008, given the current budget crunch, will she and the General Assembly follow through, or will those victims, many of whom are elderly women now, continue to die off without the state ever making amends?
Editor's note - The NCNAACP's Third Annual ''HK on J'' rally and march is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 14 starting at 9:30 a.m. with a rally at Chavis Park in Raleigh, and then at 10:30 a.m. a march to the state Legislature on Jones Street.
Go to www.hkonj.com or more information.

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