Morning Memo: Big questions remain as McCrory’s DHHS headaches grow

jfrank@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2014 

For the third time in a week, problems at the Department of Health and Human Services are causing headaches for Gov. Pat McCrory, who wanted to tout the state’s economic improvement this week. And the news that broke Thursday is significant.

From today’s story: “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has threatened to sanction the state for failing to show it was addressing widespread problems with food stamp applications.

“The Dec. 11 warning letter came about two months after state Health and Human Services officials assured legislators that the department responded swiftly to problems with the computer software program called NC FAST. The software problems forced thousands of people to wait months for food assistance.” Read more here.

The letter adds to the pressure for Secretary Aldona Wos to resign, as more state lawmakers on Friday will call for her to step down.

THE BIG QUOTE: “The letter is evidence they weren’t telling the truth,” Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said. “We asked for accurate information. None of this has ever been shared with us.”

Even Republicans are alarmed. “I was under the impression that it had stabilized and things were getting on track,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, told WRAL. “That’s just embarrassing at a minimum. This is one we need to jump on.”

3 BIG QUESTIONS ON DHHS MESS:

1. What did Gov. Pat McCrory know about the letter and what did he do? (Earlier this week, Gov. Pat McCrory defended Wos after the letter was sent.)

2. Did Wos mislead lawmakers? Or did she lie, as Parmon suggests? DHHS said Wos didn’t address NC FAST during her November testimony because it wasn’t on the agenda and says she didn’t lie. (Updated)

3. How much longer can Wos survive politically, as lawmakers look for someone to take responsibility for the agency’s blunders?

*** More fallout from the latest DHHS troubles below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: The Legislative Black Caucus will hold simultaneous press conferences across the state at 10 a.m. today to call for Wos’ resignation. The cities: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Rocky Mount and Winston-Salem.

Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a National Guard armory tour and briefing in Morrisville at the same time.

Other government meetings: the UNC Board of Governors meets at 9 a.m. in Chapel Hill and a Mining and Energy Commission’s committee meets beginning at 8 a.m., ahead of Tuesday’s full board meeting.

N.C. GOP RESPONDS TO CALLS FOR WOS OUSTER BY BLAMING DEMOCRATS: From a Winston-Salem Journal piece: Claude Pope, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, deflected making comment on the resignation recommendation, instead placing the blame for the problems on the administrations of Gov. Mike Easley and Gov. Bev Perdue for “years of institutional incompetence” within DHHS.

“Rather than work with the governor and the rest of the General Assembly on finding ways to make state government more efficient, they are trying to score cheap political points under the banner of the N.C. Democrat Party,” Pope said. Read more here.

RELATED: State legislators with responsibility for overseeing state government computer systems showed no interest Thursday in discussing a massive privacy breach at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, saying they are satisfied with how Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is investigating it. Read the AP story here.

GOP CAN’T WAIT FOR OBAMA VISIT: President Barack Obama’s visit to North Carolina next week has Republicans salivating. In an email Thursday, soon after the trip’s announcement, a N.C. GOP spokesman sent a trifecta photo of Democrats Kay Hagan and Bev Perdue with Obama. Republicans will use it to try to tie Hagan and Obama together, when both are taking heat from the federal health care law. The GOP statement: “But despite her best attempts, Kay Hagan cannot fool North Carolinians. They know that she votes with President Obama 96 percent of the time, enthusiastically endorsed him for re-election and has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the Obamacare train wreck.

“The question North Carolinians are now asking is whether Kay Hagan will go out of her way to avoid the President, or whether she will publicly embrace the President and join him on the stage in Raleigh.”

AFTER McCRORY DECISION, ADAMS CALLS FOR LEGISLATION TO SHORTEN VACANCIES: From the News & Record – State Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, called for legislation Thursday that would limit the amount of time a congressional seat may remain vacant.

Adams and other local leaders decried Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to hold a special election to fill the state’s 12th Congressional District seat on the same schedule as this year’s regular elections.

Ryan Tronovitch, a spokesman for the governor’s office, declined to comment on Adams’ proposal. Read more here.

NO TUITION HIKE POSSIBLE FOR IN-STATE STUDENTS: North Carolina students at the state’s public universities may get a reprieve from higher tuition next year, but their classmates from out of state will face steep increases.

Next month, the university system’s governing board will vote on a proposed freeze on tuition for students who are North Carolina residents, along with increases averaging 4.2 percent for most fees. If the proposals are approved, in-state undergraduates would pay $5,444 at N.C. Central University and $8,133 at both N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014-15. That includes tuition and fees, but not room, food, books and transportation. At the same time, out-of-state students could be looking at significantly larger tuition bills. Read more here.

COLON WILLOUGHBY TO RETIRE: Located in the home of state government offices and the political halls of power, Willoughby’s office has been responsible for bringing cases that range from street crimes to white collar crimes and government corruption. His office has been in on investigations that have left some of North Carolina’s more prominent elected officials with criminal records. Read more here.

CHARTER SCHOOL BOOM CONTINUES: The State Board of Education gave final approval Thursday for 26 new charter schools to open this fall – the largest expansion of the program since the late 1990s. Read more here.

TONY RAND GETS A NEW JOB, RECOVERING FROM HEALTH PROBLEMS: From the Fayetteville Observer – Former state Sen. Tony Rand has been hired to oversee the privatization of a job-training program in Cumberland County.

Rand, a 74-year-old Democrat from Fayetteville, is the new associate vice president and career center manager for the Workforce Development office on Ray Avenue. His first day was Jan. 2, and his annual salary is $55,000.

“...Rand has had some recent health problems, and his voice has become raspy. He said he had several procedures done to his thyroid about 18 months ago, but his health has improved. Read more here.

MOYERS DEFEDS HIS DOCUMENTARY: Journalist Bill Moyers on Thursday defended his documentary about North Carolina politics after one critic called it an “unfair attack” on state budget director and conservative financier Art Pope. The documentary, called “State of Conflict: North Carolina,” aired last week on UNC TV’s digital channel. It highlighted the political influence of Pope and his family foundation. Read more here.

QUICK HITS ---

Republican Sen. Bob Rucho’s latest Twitter fight – calls woman a “moron.” Read it here.

Greg Brannon dredges up scandals to bash Thom Tillis. Read more here.

N.C. high tech driver’s license project advances. Read more here.

Immigrant students pressure Cooper for in-state tuition. Read more here.

Mountain lawmakers faces challengers. Read more here.

WRAL has a preview of N.C. Spin’s pre-taped interview with Pat McCrory that will air Sunday. (Hint: No mention of the DHHS letter). Read more here.

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