N.C. Senate Democrats unveil a plan for families with legislation that includes picking up where Build Back Better left off

From left, Sens. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, and Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, during a January 2018 committee meeting. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

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  • North Carolina Senate Democrats unveil a plan for families that includes picking up where Biden's Build Back Better bill left off.
  • The legislation looks at giving childcare tax credits that would give childcare tax credits, fully fund Pre-K and give free school lunches to all public school students.
  • Other pieces of legislation address the mental health of students and contraception and abortion.

North Carolina Senate Democrats held a press conference recently to announce their “North Carolina Families Plan.” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, Wake, said the plan was based on different pieces of legislation and the budget proposals laid out by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Two pieces of legislation, S.B. 887, the Child Care Act, and S.B.865, Child Tax Credit look at picking up where President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill left off in terms of the Child Tax Credit that expired at the beginning of 2022. Chaudhuri spoke about S.B. 865, of which he was a co-sponsor, along with Sen. Milton Fitch, Wilson, and Sen. Michael Garrett, Guilford. Under the bill, a parent would receive a credit ranging from $125 to $250, depending on marital status and income.

Chaudhuri said the federal childcare tax credit reduced child poverty by nearly 30% and cut deep poverty for families by half. As a result of the expiration of the tax credit earlier this year, 17% of the state’s children were living in poverty in January 2022 compared to the end of 2021 which translates to almost 4 million kids going back into poverty. “The state child tax credit can help get families to meet their basic necessities like food and clothing, especially at a time that we are seeing higher food prices,” Chaudhuri said. “The General Assembly can act to make sure our families have the resources to meet rising costs, supporting their children’s needs, and helping their development.”

“The Child Care Act (S.B. 887) invests in families and children to ensure they have adequate resources they need to grow, excel, and join in as contributing members of society,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, Mecklenburg, about legislation that he co-sponsored with Sen. Natalie Murdock, Durham. The legislation would restore childcare tax credits, fully fund Pre-K slots for every eligible four-year-old at a cost of $180 million from the General Fund, appropriate $45 million for the subsidized childcare, make school lunches free for every child at a cost of $159,300,000 from the General Fund, and provide $10 million from the General Fund for community colleges operating public childcare programs.   

“Senate Bill 887 represents just one piece of the solution to the challenges affecting our children in North Carolina and I encourage my colleagues to work with us to make all of our children whole in North Carolina,” he said.

Heba Atwa, Advocacy Manager, N.C. Budget and Tax Center, said S.B. 865 and S.B. 887 provide targeted tax credits and deeper investments in childcare.  “1 in 5 North Carolina kids live in poverty, meaning their family makes less than $25.000 a year for a family of 4 and at least 1 in 5, sometimes 1 in 4, depending on the county, don’t get enough to eat,” Atwa said. “Children who experience poverty between their prenatal and 5th year of life are twice as likely to report poor health even into adulthood. Children in the poorest 20% of urban populations are twice as likely as children in the richest 20% of urban populations to die before their first birthday.”

She said a refundable tax credit would mean more money for things like more and healthier food, access to healthcare when needed, stable housing, and money to cover educational costs. Atwa added making childcare more affordable in the state would help with the cost of childcare for an infant costing close to $10,000 a year and 200,000 North Carolinians reporting that a lack of childcare kept them from working,

“Lowering costs for services like childcare is critically important, especially as families battle today’s inflation,” said Paige Terryberry, senior analyst for fiscal policy, John Locke Foundation. The current rate of inflation is at 8.6%, the largest annual increase since December 1981. “Unfortunately, subsidizing childcare costs would increase demand and further drive up prices. Legislators should instead look to reduce regulatory burdens at the root of the high costs.”

Chaudhuri and Mohammed co-sponsored S.B. 866, which would appropriate money from the General Fund to help fund school psychologists and social workers. S.B. 807, Student Mental Health Support Act, co-sponsored by Fitch Garrett and Sen. Sydney Batch, Wake, would appropriate $40 million for school mental health grants to increase access to mental health support personnel in public schools., “Our bills can help prevent the ongoing epidemic of gun violence including what we just witnessed in Uvalde, Texas, given the fact that our country has experienced 27 school shootings thus far this year,” Chaudhuri said.

Senate Democrats also support Gov. Cooper’s budget provision of about $39 million to stop violent crime, ensure safe gun storage and bolster existing funding for school safety grants, including $20 million directed to the Department of Public Instruction to create school safety grants.

Valerie Arendt, Executive Director, North Carolina Chapter, of the National Association of Social Workers, said the youth mental health crisis has gone from bad to worse in the state with over 74,000 children with major depression who have not received treatment. “The Association’s recommended ratio is 1 school social worker for every 250 students,” Arendt said. “North Carolina’s current ratio is 1 school social worker to every 1,584 students. COVID federal funding has reduced the ratio, but it is anticipated that the money will run out by 2024.”

Sen. Gladys Robinson, Guilford talked about fully funding the North Carolina Superior Court’s directive with the Leandro Remedial Action Plan with the bill she sponsored,  SB 835, A Sound Basic Education  The bill calls for the immediate allocation of $785 million from the Savings Reserve to the General Fund for distribution.

S.B. 898, Community Health Center Grants, which gives access to contraception, and S.B. 888, Codify Roe and Casey Protections, seeks to keep abortion legal in North Carolina in the wake of the impending decision of the Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe v Wade, rounded out the rest of the Senate Democrats plan.