Due to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the General Assembly’s proposed state budget, North Carolina avoided more than $42 million in cuts that would have left numerous agencies vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak.
A dramatically shrunken budget and staff cuts prompted by the state budget, would have strained the state’s Health and Human Services, the agency that is tackling the spread of COVID-19.
Overshadowed earlier this week by Cooper’s declaration of a state of emergency because of the spread of COVID-19, was state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen’s stern admonition to legislators about the potential jeopardy their ill-conceived budget might have caused.
What’s clear is that legislative leaders, who’ve ignored the pleading of hospitals, doctors and insurance companies, don’t want to hear the truth from Cohen either. Do they even care?
“We had a conference budget that the General Assembly put forward, to remind folks that it cut $42 million worth of people at our department over two years. … I can’t hire people with non-recurring funds,” Cohen told the Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services.
“As I think about the crisis that we are preparing for, I don’t see how that would have been tenable in any way, even if without COVID-19. There was no scenario on which we could have delivered on the expectations you have of our department,” she said.
The budget, and the “mini” budget bill the legislature seeks to force on her doesn’t even deal with financing mandates it had imposed on her agency. “To provide ongoing accountability and oversight of managed care and protect the health and safety of North Carolinians, N.C. DHHS needs the right budget,” Cohen told legislators in the big bold letters of a projected Power Point presentation. “When it comes to health and well-being, the state is better off (with) the (old) continuing than with the (legislature’s) Conference budget.”
North Carolina has been without a budget for almost ten months due to the Republican-controlled legislature’s inability to negotiate Medicaid expansion, teacher pay increases and business tax cuts.
Almost one million NC residents cannot afford health coverage and remain uninsured, as coronavirus cases increase. Yet, legislatures continue to refuse a compromise that would expand coverage for those in need, and fund resources that would keep North Carolinians safe.
Legislative leaders have not only chosen to ignore the truth presented by doctors, hospitals and health officials, but have neglected North Carolinians, as the refusal to negotiate for a budget has left the health and safety of millions in question. It’s time for lawmakers to put aside partisan politics and make the health and safety of the people their number one priority.