Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Poverty in a time of Prosperity in North Dakota

There is one dominant story about North Dakota these days, and it is one of prosperity. 

Thanks largely to oil, savings and some decent financial planning on the part of our state, we are in the black while the rest of the country is in the red. It is true that we have the lowest unemployment in the nation, and one of the only state surpluses. 

But there is another, quieter story that is really only beginning to be told, and that is one of struggle and SOMETHING that comes with enormous change like we’re seeing in this state. 
There are infrastructure needs and environmental needs, and there are also very real human needs that are arising in our state. 

More and more people are relying on food banks, food stamps and free school lunch programs for their meals. 

The lack of childcare has forced many working families to make tough decisions about their home finances. 

And the scarcity of housing in the area – let alone affordable housing – is pushing many people out of their homes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Using North Dakota "Know How" to Create a New Era of Opportunity

In North Dakota, we know how to get things done. We survive blizzards, hold back floods and come to the rescue of farmers needing harvest help.  We pitch in with our neighbors when times are tough. And right now many of our neighbors are facing tough times. Fortunately, our state is in better economic shape than many these days. But for this stability to continue we—as a state—must use our “know-how” to provide opportunity and ensure prosperity for all of us and for our next generation.  We must strengthen and protect the wellbeing of all families and communities in North Dakotans. 

We can do this.
We know how.  The middle class in America – and in North Dakota – has always been the heart of our economic success. And this did not happen by accident; it was built through proactive policies–like, the GI Bill that made college affordable for veterans and the home mortgage deduction that encouraged home ownership. In North Dakota, we understand the importance of policies that support family farms and encourage young people to graduate from high school and go on to earn college degrees. Policies like these are popular fixtures in our independent, “know-how” way of life.

The North Dakota Economic Security and Prosperity Alliance believes that along with supportive policymakers and communities, our state can create policies that build on the hard work of North Dakota families so that they can achieve the prosperity and the middle class dreams we all have - caring for our families, building assets, saving for the future, putting our kids through college. We can strengthen the foundations of our economy by offering all North Dakotans the tools they need for economic stability and security.  There isn’t one easy answer. But, by tying several efforts together – savings, healthcare support and higher education – we can begin to build some of the solutions.

NDESPA supports three policy initiatives to help families build savings, provide health insurance to their children and seek higher education for themselves.  

1.     Savings is an economic foundation. North Dakota can help working families build savings by establishing a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This tax credit would provide a refund to working families on the income they have earned. Families typically use EITC refunds to pay off debt, finance transportation to their jobs, invest in education, and buy basic necessities – all of which help them to achieve economic stability. Over 40,000 North Dakotans would be eligible to receive the state EITC.
2.     Affordable healthcare is essential for economic security. North Dakota can help working families insure their children by increasing eligibility in the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to 250%. Many additional North Dakota children would be eligible for this benefit, preventing the high costs associated with emergent and crisis care.
3.     Higher education is a pathway to prosperity. North Dakota can help families improve their education and skills by expanding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) childcare subsidies that would allow TANF-eligible parents to use quality childcare while they complete a 4-year college degree, rather than the current 2-year limit. Hundreds of North Dakota parents could take advantage of this temporary benefit that would, in turn, permanently increase their earning power over the life of their career.

We have the money.
North Dakota is one of only a handful of states expecting a budget surplus in 2011-2012. We anticipate a surplus of around $1 billion. Now is the time to invest in families and in the middle class in North Dakota – now, when the strains on families and communities are the greatest. Now is the time for responsible, wise choices to pave the way for future prosperity. These changes will cost money. But, as an investment to the future of North Dakota, and at this time in our history, it is a wise investment that will pay off in time.

We know what needs to be done.
It’s clear from the latest US Census Bureau data; working families among us are struggling to join the ranks of the middle class. Too many of our North Dakota friends and neighbors live in poverty – currently, 1 out of every 9 North Dakotans earn less than the federal poverty guidelines (for example, a family of four living on less than $22,000 per year).

The same data shows that half of North Dakota households have an annual income of less than $47,806, and one in three renters pay more than 35% of their household income in rent. And, we know that North Dakota ranks near the bottom in providing health insurance for low-income children through CHIP. More importantly, we know that these issues – growing poverty, high rates of uninsured children and high housing costs – show that too many families in North Dakota face a dismal economic future. It’s clear that the good economic times in North Dakota are not reaching all families in the same way. Many hardworking families are unable to meet even the basic costs of living.

And, simply making ends meet is not enough to allow families to save for their children’s college education, consider purchase of a home, have reliable transportation to work or meet the costs of quality childcare. At this level of income, more than 55,000 citizens of North Dakota received food stamps, a nearly 13% jump over 2008.

We can build prosperity for all of North Dakota.
In North Dakota, we know how to get things done. We can choose the policies that build the foundations of our economy and create entryways to the middle class. We know that the economic wellbeing of average North Dakotans matters to us all and that now is the time to invest in the economic stability of all families and communities in our state. We have the financial resources; our state has $1 billion that can be reinvested in its people. And, we have the “know-how.” Let’s get to work.

For more information on the work of the North Dakota Economic Security & Prosperity Alliance, contact Renee at ndespa@agree.org. 

NDESPA Blog launched

     The NDESPA Vision Statement is: “With the help of supportive policy makers and communities, all North Dakotans will have the tools they need to achieve and maintain economic security for themselves and their families.”  

     The NDESPA Mission Statement is: “The North Dakota Economic Security and Prosperity Alliance works to build and sustain a system of economic security for all through poverty awareness and education, grassroots and community capacity building, research and data development, and promotion of policies and practices to eliminate disparities and obstacles for achieving economic security.”