The painful episode in North Carolina history known as the 2013 legislative session is over—or will soon be over.
Higher taxes (unless you’re rich) – The majority of low- and middle-income taxpayers will pay a little more under the new tax plan created by state legislative leaders. The plan is particularly harmful to low-income women with children because it eliminates the state Earned Income Tax Credit, a crucial support for struggling working families. Meanwhile, corporations and the wealthiest people in the state will receive a sizable tax cut.
A kick in the gut for unemployed women – It was more than a kick, really. For many unemployed women, particularly those with families to support, the legislature’s decision to drastically cut unemployment benefits practically dooms them to financial ruin. The legislature cut the maximum state unemployment benefit from $535 a week to $350 a week, and cut the number of eligible weeks from 26 to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks. By implementing those cuts, the state also rejected extended benefits for the long-term unemployed – which would have been paid for entirely by the federal government. With the state unemployment rate at 8.9% — the third-highest in the country – and unemployment soaring above 13% in some counties, job prospects for many unemployed women look bleak.
Fewer jobs for women – Part of the reason why the state unemployment rate went up in July was that NC now has 5,300 fewer public-sector jobs. Funding cuts to various programs have forced agencies to lay off workers, and many of those workers are women. Women make up the majority of our teachers, social workers, public-health nurses, etc. Women’s propensity for public service and our desire to help others has come back to bite us.
Higher costs and fewer options for students – The state legislature cut funding for the UNC system by $66 million, which comes on top of years of cuts totaling about half a billion dollars. University presidents say they’ll have to increase class sizes, reduce course offerings, and cut staff. At UNC-Chapel Hill, professors have already started jumping at opportunities to leave. The legislature also raised tuition for community colleges students.
Fewer jobs for teachers and teacher’s assistants – Some 80% of teachers in North Carolina are women; women suffer when the legislature decides to increase class sizes, deny teachers a pay increase for the fifth year in a row, and drastically cut funding for teacher’s assistants– the majority of whom, again, are women.
Less access to health care – Few actions by state leaders did more direct harm to women than their refusal to expand Medicaid coverage. This decision denies health insurance to half a million people in North Carolina. An estimated 2,800 people will die unnecessarily every year because of this decision.
Decreased access to reproductive healthcare – After some truly ridiculous backroom maneuvers, the state legislature put new restrictions on health facilities that provide abortions in a bill dealing with motorcycle safety. Gov. McCrory, who promised not to increase restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health during his gubernatorial campaign, happily signed the bill. The law will likely force 15 of the 16 women’s health clinics in North Carolina to shut down.
Greater restrictions on voting – What’s the best way to keep power? No, it’s not “listen to your constituents and do your best to meet their needs.” It’s “make it harder for those who oppose you to vote.” The new voting restrictions law eliminates same-day registration and teenage pre-registration (which allowed 16- and 17-year olds to register, although they still couldn’t vote until they turned 18). The legislature also eliminated Citizens Awareness Month and voter registration drives in high schools. New voter ID requirements go into effect in 2016, but poll officials will start asking to see ID next year. Visit democracy-nc.org for more info. Following the legislature’s lead – and acting with impunity now that the US Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act – numerous local boards of election are acting to make it harder for college students to vote.
So that’s the wrap-up, ladies. If any (or all) of that made you mad, remember that you don’t have to wait until the next election to make your voice heard.