While the economic impact of the COVID-19 continues to be felt across the country, from inflation to supply chain issues, North Carolina remains one of the best states in the country to do business and raise a family. Though the economic impact of this pandemic is visible, our state is in a much stronger position thanks in large part to sound financial planning over the past decade by our legislature.
As we look forward to a 2022 that, for many, may be filled with economic uncertainty, we welcome North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell to this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast. Treasurer Folwell is currently serving in his second term as the “keeper of the public purse,” and he sits down with NC Family President John L. Rustin to discuss some of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing our state financially in the coming year.
On a positive note, Treasurer Folwell outlines how North Carolina reached its $4 billion unemployment surplus through saving, budgeting, and paying off debt. This put our state in “a great position of financial certainty for handling this deadly ‘pop quiz’ known as COVID,” says Folwell.
A major challenge North Carolina is facing is the employment crisis—not the unemployment crisis. Treasurer Folwell notes that driving around the state, he sees signs saying, “If your service is slow, please don’t blame the people who chose to show up for work.” “You cannot have a system where people who chose to show up for work,” he continues, “are paying into a system that rewards people more per hour for not showing up for work. These businesses cannot compete against their own government that they’re paying unemployment taxes into.”
While responding to the economic effects of COVID will certainly be a major focus of 2022, another issue that has been critical for some time is healthcare. “We are seeing and experiencing the cartelization of healthcare in North Carolina,” warns Folwell. “What’s happening is that when you have cartelization of healthcare, you have a product that people would rather not consume (because that would mean they’re healthy); when they try to inquire as to what it’s going to cost, they’re told it’s none of their business; and then when they don’t pay for something they didn’t want to consume and were not told what it would cost, then their credit rating is destroyed. When people have their credit rating destroyed by consuming a product they would rather not consume when no one would tell them what it costs, is something that’s worth getting mad about.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell discuss North Carolina’s economic landscape as we enter 2022.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As we begin a new year, many families are setting budgets and trying to get a handle on what the economic landscape is going to look like in the coming months. Clearly the coronavirus pandemic continues to play havoc with the economy, both nationally and internationally, impacting production and manufacturing, the supply chain, employment, and consumer spending and purchasing habits. Despite all of this, North Carolina continues to rank as one of the best states in the nation to do business and to live, work, and raise a family.
We’re excited to be joined by North Carolina State Teasurer, Dale Folwell, to explore some of these issues, why North Carolina is such a great place to live and work, and what some of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing our state and nation will be in the year to come. Treasurer Folwell, who is serving in his second term as state treasurer, has been a long-time friend of the Family Policy Council. During his four terms in the State House of Representatives—one of those as Speaker Pro Tem—he has always been a strong ally and someone with whom we have worked closely on a host of family friendly policies.
Treasurer Folwell, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
TREASURER FOLWELL: It’s really great to be back with you, and Happy New Year.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thank you and Happy New Year to you as well. Now, Treasurer Folwell, as I said, you were formerly a member of the General Assembly, and certainly our listeners are pretty familiar with what the legislature is, but they may be less familiar with the position of state treasurer. So if you would take a minute, we’d appreciate it if you’d briefly explain what the role of the state treasurer is in North Carolina.
TREASURER FOLWELL: I’d be glad to do that. I consider myself and our staff to be the keepers of the public purse. What that really should mean to your listeners is that the culture that we set here is based on the blood that runs through me, which is Quaker. One of the Quaker religion is to be fair and just, and what that should mean when you’re managing one of the largest pools of public money in the world is that we don’t pick and choose which laws to apply or who to apply them to. We treat everybody genuinely and fairly. With everything that’s dividing our society right now—political persuasion and gender and color—none of that exists at the Treasurer’s office. It’s all G-R-E-E-N, which is green
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, that’s a great explanation and a good start to our conversation. So Treasurer Folwell, looking at the economy in general as we begin 2022, where do things stand, and what do you consider to be some of the greatest challenges facing North Carolina families?
TREASURER FOLWELL: I think the biggest challenge, number one, is that we have public servants who tend to talk about something that they don’t know anything about, and even if they did, they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s one of our biggest challenges. And that leads into our second biggest challenge which is that people want to be affirmed about what they feel about a topic; they don’t want to be informed. But thirdly, what I’m deeply concerned about right now is people losing confidence in government, because that is one of the linchpins of our society. And of course we can talk about the employment crisis that we’re facing; we can talk about jobs, healthcare, and educational insecurity and uncertainty; we can talk about the fact that inflation is a thief that disproportionately hurts our lower and fixed income people. So we can unpack all that over the next few minutes.
JOHN RUSTIN: We do hear a lot about federal policies affecting the economy, especially with respect to inflation, which you just mentioned. How have federal policies during the pandemic helped or hurt the economy and families here in North Carolina from your standpoint?
TREASURER FOLWELL: I think that North Carolinians—especially lower, fixed income individuals, many of whom don’t have an opportunity to work remotely—I think they have been disproportionately, negatively affected. This virus has created death; it’s created illness; it’s created poverty; and it’s created illiteracy. No one who flies under the banner of Family Policy Council would be in favor of any of those three things.
JOHN RUSTIN: Treasurer Folwell, one area that has been dramatically impacted by federal policies is in the arena of employment and the labor market. It seems like more and more small businesses are having difficulty finding workers, and are having to either limit hours of operation or even in some cases shut down altogether. Give us a sense of where you think things stand with respect to unemployment and jobs, and where you see things going in 2022.
TREASURER FOLWELL: Let me start by empathizing with anyone who is an employer of people and the difficulty that they’re facing right now in actually finding people to do the jobs. It’s ironic…I’m 63 years old. I’ve been in the labor market for 53 years in this state, and it’s ironic that as I was going down the road this winter on my motorcycle, I would see signs like not “Apply inside,” but “We hire immediately.” I would see other signs that said, “If your service is slow, please don’t blame the people who chose to show up for work.” Almost a year ago, I sounded the alarm in the state of North Carolina about what I saw coming with the employment crisis of this state—not the unemployment crisis, the employment crisis. And as I was trying to explain this to folks in Raleigh, I had to remind people that this is about the fact that the biggest employer in North Carolina is the State of North Carolina. The second are the school systems, John. The third are the counties, and the fourth are the cities. So when we talk about an employment crisis and the inability, we’re not talking about people serving food or doing other important jobs; we’re talking about essential services of state and local government.
So this is affecting everyone, and the reason why it is going on is for two reasons, and one is a very positive reason. We, you and I and others, have always known the importance of women in our society, but not until COVID did we actually put everything together as women have become a bigger part of our workforce, of the fact that when they did that, they didn’t leave their other jobs as mothers and as people who are glue that keep their family units together. And so I think it’s put a great, positive spotlight on the impact that women have in our world in general. The second part of all this is that it’s also put more sunshine on the fact that as far as the employment crisis is concerned, you cannot have a system where people who chose to show up for work are paying into a system to reward people more per hour for not showing up for work. These business cannot compete against their own government that they’re paying unemployment taxes into.
JOHN RUSTIN: Treasurer Folwell, despite these national economic challenges, and in some cases the responses of the federal government to that, North Carolina has remained on strong financial footing with budget surpluses driven by sound budgeting, lower taxes, controlled spending, and record-setting savings. To what do you credit North Carolina’s continued strong performance economically?
TREASURER FOLWELL: To your point, what has happened before any of us had ever heard of COVID for 10 years, the State of North Carolina had been balancing its budget, building surpluses, building rainy day funds. A part that I played a part in was paying off $2.7 billion of unemployment debt that ultimately built up to a $4 billion surplus. That $4 billion unemployment surplus was desperately needed as we had nearly a million people unemployed in North Carolina. So what happened during the “semester” put North Carolina in a great position of financial certainty for handling this deadly “pop quiz” called COVID. And so all the credit goes not only to the General Assembly who has lived within its means, but also the taxpayers who pay these taxes.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, no doubt about that. On another topic, health insurance, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. This is always a big subject of conversation in the halls of the legislature and among leaders of our state like yourself. From your perspective, where do things currently stand as far as access to healthcare in North Carolina for the elderly and economically disadvantaged?
TREASURER FOLWELL: We are seeing and experiencing the cartelization of healthcare in North Carolina. If you go to Webster’s Dictionary, a cartel is defined as associations which are formed to restrict competition or raise prices. We all know from Pew research and John’s Hopkins and other think-tanks around the world, that anytime that you have the concentration of healthcare into the hands of multimillion dollar executives who run these multi-billion dollar nonprofits, these nonprofits have billions and billions of dollars in the bank off the backs of sick people, but they are allowed to call themselves nonprofits. The result of that is lower quality, lower access, and higher cost. I’m the chair of the State Health Plan Board, which we are the largest purchaser of healthcare in North Carolina, and I’m in favor of higher quality, higher access, and lower cost. What’s happening is that when you have cartelization of healthcare, you have a product that people would rather not consume, because that would mean they’re healthy; when they try to inquire as to what it’s going to cost, they’re told it’s none of their business; and then when they don’t pay for something they didn’t want to consume and were not told what it would cost, then their credit rating is destroyed. When people have their credit rating destroyed by consuming a product they would rather not consume when no one would tell them what it costs is something that’s worth getting mad about.
This is far different, John, than when I was growing up, when credit scores mattered, but not like it does today. Credit scores determine what you pay for the basic liability insurance that gives you the upward mobility in your life. Credit scores determine whether you get the benefit of the doubt when you need to rent shelter. And obviously credit scores matter when you want to borrow money to buy a house. We just had an article last year from the Wall Street Journal that says that one procedure at one hospital in Northern California—one procedure at the same hospital—can cost between $6,000 and $60,000. Think of the discrimination that goes on, if you and I were to walk into a McDonald’s and order the exact same menu items, and you’d be charged a different price than I would based on what type of credit card we presented to them. We would not tolerate that. Why do we tolerate that in healthcare? And this is, as I said earlier, disproportionately impactful for lower income and fixed income individuals. We at the State Health Plan and I, as the keeper of the public purse, are not going to be on the wrong side of history and to continue to take advantage of people and price something to them that they don’t know the cost of that they would rather not consume.
JOHN RUSTIN: Wow, clearly we could do an entire show or two about that because it’s such a critical issue for our state and for individuals and families in North Carolina. Now this may come as a bit of a surprise to some of our listeners, but throughout your tenure, Treasurer Folwell, as the state treasurer, you have been committed to actually returning money to the citizens of North Carolina. Talk for a minute, if you would, about unclaimed property and what the treasurer’s office is doing to try to return property and cash, in some cases, to the citizens of North Carolina.
TREASURER FOLWELL: Well, I’ll be glad to do so. And we spent about $800 million every 30 days for pension healthcare and prescription drug benefits. And by the way, when we talked about healthcare a moment ago, let’s speak clearly: we’re not talking about the people that actually do the work of healthcare; we’re talking about the multimillion dollar executives that work for multi-billion dollar nonprofits. But part of what we do is we have a program called NCcash.com. It’s very simple. A, your chances are better than playing the lottery; B, it’s simply where somebody tried to mail you a check that you did not receive, or you did not cash. Ultimately that has to be sent to us. Last year, we gave out $75 million to individuals, churches, nonprofits, and businesses of money that’s sitting at the treasure’s office. So, people can go to NCcash.com. Because it is public record, if it’s over $50, we just say it’s over $50, but I wanna report just in the last few weeks, we were able to find somebody who had $248,000 sitting at NCcash.com from a life insurance policy from somebody who left them this money over 10 years ago.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well State Treasurer Dale Folwell, thank you so much for your time. That’s great information, and I do want to encourage our listeners to go to NCcash.com—again, that’s NCcash.com—to check and see if you might have any unclaimed property. But also visit the website of the North Carolina treasurer’s office at NCTreasurer.com—again, that’s NCTreasurer.com—to learn more about the treasurer’s office and the great work that Dale Folwell is doing as our state treasurer in North Carolina. And with that Treasurer Dale Folwell, I want to thank you so much for your time and your participation with us on Family Policy Matters.
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