Poverty is bad; helping is hard

Staff WriterOctober 28, 2009 

— No lawmaker opposes the goal of reducing poverty, but a state legislative commission Tuesday was far from unified about how to do it.

The group listened as leaders from UNC-Chapel Hill's Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity and the N.C. Justice Center, which advocates on behalf of low-income families, outlined four proposals the commission will consider turning into bills:

Raising North Carolina's earned income tax credit, which provides refunds to low-income workers, from 5percent of the federal EITC to 10percent. The federal credit is calculated based on income and number of children.

Removing the limit on the number of children enrolled in the Health Choice children's health insurance program, which now insures about 85,000 children whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Increasing funding to the N.C. Housing Trust Fund from $10 million to $50 million. The fund provides assistance for a variety of housing efforts, from homeless shelters to helping families buy homes.

Requiring that legislation with a financial impact include an analysis to make sure any tax burden doesn't unfairly fall on the lower income bracket.

Gene Nichol, who heads the poverty center, emphasized that 15 percent of North Carolina households and nearly 20 percent of children in the state live below the poverty level.

Boosting funding for the state Housing Trust Fund would help 6,000 families, said Bill Rowe, general counsel for the Justice Center.

Looking at poverty figures that rose even during economic growth, Sen. Don East, a Pilot Mountain Republican, questioned whether increasing funding to existing programs was wise.

From the Democratic side, Sen. Doug Berger of Youngsville highlighted programs at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center that he said were more directly tied to job creation.

"Jobs eliminate poverty," Berger said.

mjohnson@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-4774

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