Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Winston-Salem Journal. May 10, 2021.

Editorial: Solving a troubling mental health situation

A bevy of bills before the state legislature seeks to improve how state and local agencies assist people struggling with mental health crises and related issues. They’re both promising and overdue.

One of them, House Bill 786, “Enhance Local Response/Mental Health Crises,” would provide funding for pilot programs to study how local police departments could respond to nonviolent emergency calls involving mental health, homelessness, substance use or other behavioral problems, with teams that include mental health professionals. Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, is among the bill’s primary sponsors.

The timing is fortuitous. Last week, a local group submitted a petition to local authorities calling for much the same thing. More than 100 mental health professionals signed the petition, promoting a system that trains emergency dispatchers to figure out whether someone calling for help needs a mental health professional, a police officer, or both, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported earlier this week.

According to the petition, while police expect people to comply with their directions, “a person with mental illness or disability may not be able to comply with an officer’s order.”

The petition also asserts that because of “generations of trauma and systematic oppression,” Black and Latino people can be impacted more by the presence of police.

“In my 28 years of experience working in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health, I have never carried nor needed a weapon, a Taser, pepper spray or handcuffs, despite the fact that I have supported hundreds of people, including young adults, in behavioral crises,” Selene Johnson, with the group Hate Out of Winston, said during a recent meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee.

Neither of these efforts should be mistaken for an attempt to “defund the police.”

“Our goal is not to demonize law enforcement, but to address the fact that they are not properly trained to be the primary or most appropriate responders in all situations,” the petition states. “There are times when law enforcement is the right professional, and there are times when they are the default professional, simply because of the existing system.”

But the legislation and petition follow a string of highly publicized incidents throughout the nation in which police responded to people experiencing mental health crises with force that tragically led to the death of the person in need.

“A person shouldn’t lose their life because they’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition,” Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said in an interview last year. “People deserve help, not handcuffs.”

Such incidents scream out for a better response. The pandemic may have exacerbated some mental health difficulties — and made all of us a little more sympathetic toward mental health and emotional needs — but these problems existed long before the stress of sequestration.

Professionals trained in how to deal with mental health crises and available for emergency dispatch would be an important step in the right direction.

Winston-Salem is one of several North Carolina cities involved in a study, sponsored by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, that looks at how police respond to cases involving mental and behavioral health issues.

A civilized society can look at problems like these and respond to them with compassion, wisdom and whatever resources are required. With public awareness growing and responsive legislators like Lambeth, a former hospital executive, we may be reaching the critical mass needed to make actual improvements.

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Charlotte Observer. May 9, 2021.

Editorial: The pandemic fell hard on mothers. Here’s how NC can really help them

The pandemic brought much-deserved attention not only to the importance of essential workers, but also to the essential work of mothers.

When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of hospitality and service industries, schools and day-care centers, the work of caring for and educating children often fell to women. Many women lost their jobs or had to leave them to care for children who were stuck at home. The result was lost family income and higher family stress.

This Mother’s Day, local, state and federal leaders should resolve to give mothers, especially those from lower-income families, what they’ve long needed.

“We have stretched moms way beyond the breaking point over the past year,” said Fawn Pattison of the advocacy group NC Child. “It’s definitely time to get serious about taking care of all the people who take care of us.”

Congress has delivered extensive aid to families and President Biden has proposed permanent changes that would support mothers and children. But the pandemic has also exposed the state’s inadequate support of child care and the lack of family friendly state policies.

Here’s how to help North Carolina mothers, particularly lower-income working mothers.

• Make the temporary child tax credit permanent. The American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March provides a $3,000 fully refundable tax credit for children 6 to 17, and $3,600 for children younger than 6. The credit is expected to cut the child poverty rate in half – but it’s only for the 2021 tax year. Making it permanent would lock in that gain. “There is no better solution for poverty than money,” Pattison said.

• Increase state subsidies for child care and increase the pay of child-care workers. As the pandemic recedes and schools and day-care centers reopen, many women who lost jobs or left jobs are ready to go back to work. But for many, the high cost of child care is a barrier to rejoining the workforce.

In North Carolina prior to the pandemic, the waiting list for a state child-care subsidy ran between 20,000 and 40,000 applicants. The state should meet that demand and increase the subsidy. It will help families and add workers at a time when employers say they are having trouble hiring people in lower-wage jobs.

Meanwhile, increase the pay for day-care workers who earn an average of about $12 an hour. It’s shameful that the people paid to care for others’ children don’t earn enough to care for their own.

“Our child-care system has been broken for a long time and the pandemic has really put a spotlight on it,” said Susan Gale Perry, chief deputy secretary for opportunity and well-being at the state Department of Health and Human Services. “We have a chance now to fix it for the long term.”

• Pass a paid family leave law and a law providing all workers with paid sick leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act lets parents take unpaid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, but lower-income workers can’t afford to take the time off. Meanwhile, workers without sick leave often go to work sick, endangering their health and the health of customers and co-workers. Two bills offered by North Carolina Democrats this legislative session would address the gaps in family leave and sick leave.

• Expand Medicaid. More than half of North Carolina births are covered by Medicaid, but many women who become eligible because of pregnancy lose their coverage soon after giving birth. Expanding Medicaid would improve the health of women before and after childbirth.

The pandemic has shown the inequities in health and income in North Carolina and the nation. But it has also shown how strong government action can respond to those inequities.

“I’m a hopeful person,” Perry said. “I think we have a real opportunity to seize this moment and really change the future for working families, working moms and children.”

North Carolina now has the revenue to address gaps in health care, child care and job benefits that have made it especially hard for lower-income working mothers this past year. With changes, next Mother’s Day may mark better days for North Carolina’s most essential workers.

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