Times are tough ... and they’re probably going to get tougher.
    You don’t need a politician to tell you that.
    However, N.C. State Sen. Tony Rand drove home the point about just how heated an economic battle we’re waging when he spoke at Fayetteville Technical Community College on Dec. 15.
    Rand was at FTCC as part of a program that presented an overview of the North Carolina state budget and an economic forecast for 2009 — discussing issues affecting the nation, the state and Cumberland County.
    Rand placed much of the blame for the economic woes squarely at the feet of unscrupulous lenders.
    “Why people put people in a position to pay mortgages they couldn’t afford, I don’t understand,” said Rand. “Well, actually, I do understand greed.”
    According to statistics provided by the North Carolina Justice Center, in 2007 there were more than 49,000 foreclosure filings in North Carolina. In an attempt to dam this flood of foreclosures, Rand said the state allocated $12 million during the past session to help people in danger of losing their homes.
    “The problem now is knowing how to negotiate with mortgagers because no one knows who owns these mortgages,” said Rand.
    Rand also made a dig at the White House’s outgoing Republican administration, saying bad financial policies had led to the problems on Wall Street; he also excoriated the CEOs who oversaw the plunge in the stock market.
    “Lehman Brothers paid this guy $50 million to put the company into bankruptcy,” said Rand. “I would have done it for $5 million.”
    {mosimage}Despite the hard times, Rand said all is not gloomy. He said the state’s general assembly will continue to work hard to fund education (school funding takes up 60 percent of the state’s budget), while continuing to reform a state mental health system he called “intolerable.”
    Rand also pointed out that with the current budget the state had:
    •Expanded health choices for children without health insurance, growing the program by more than 130,000 children;
    •Provided funding to low income, uninsured rural people;
    •Increased the Earned Income Tax Credit from 3.5 percent to 5 percent.
    “This upcoming session of the legislature will present problems but it is also an opportunity,” said Rand. “There are no more sacred cows. And as we come out of this economic distress we will have a more efficient government. I liken it to pruning an orchard; your yield will go down if you don’t prune. And, we have a balanced budget and we have a Triple AAA bond coverage; we are one of three states that has the state pension plan completely funded.”
    Despite Rand’s optimism about the coming year, Elaine Meija, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center for the North Carolina Justice Center says more needs to be done — especially here in Cumberland County.
    “The child poverty rate in Cumberland County is 20 percent ... statewide average is 16 percent,” said Meija. “The overall poverty rate in Cumberland County is 17 percent, while the state rate is 14.3 percent; 38.6 percent of county residents were low income in 2007, meaning their incomes were less than twice the federal poverty level ($21,027 for a family of four).”
    Louisa Warren, senior policy advocate for the North Carolina Justice Center gave a laundry list of what needs to be done in 2009 to correct some of these problems, both across the state and in Cumberland County.
    “Among other things, we need to provide child care subsidies to working families to help with the high cost of raising children,” said Warren. “And for the economic stimulus plan to work we need additional weeks of unemployment insurance and a temporary boost to food stamp benefits; we also need investment in the national housing trust fund and local funds to support affordable housing construction for the economically disadvantaged.
    “We’re in tough times and will be facing tough times over the next few years,” said Warren. “But there is hope that the new administration in Washington will address some of these problems.”

Contact Tim Wilkins at tim@upandcomingweekly.com


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