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Gov. McCrory's choreography overlooks full story

The photo op came off just so, and the headlines around the state were precisely what Gov. Pat McCrory intended: “McCrory announces aid for food banks struggling with shutdown.”

That was only part of the story, though, and not the largest part. In fact, food banks across North Carolina – and the hungry people they serve – have been struggling more because of the state’s actions and inaction than because of the partial government shutdown.

McCrory held a press conference Monday at Charlotte’s Second Harvest Food Bank. He announced that he was speeding up $750,000 that the food banks had coming to them, and he said the state Department of Justice would provide an additional $2 million on top of the $3 million the food banks were already supposed to receive.

“Federal services are not political chess pieces,” McCrory said in a prepared statement. “Real people are being impacted in very real ways. The political brinkmanship must end.”

He said this at the very moment he was moving political chess pieces and having a real impact on real people with his political brinkmanship.

There’s no question the government shutdown is making things harder on some people and driving up food-bank demand. Thousands of federal employees in North Carolina, especially in regions with a heavy military presence, are being furloughed and having to make ends meet while Washington bickers.

But thousands more North Carolinians were hungry long before the shutdown, and McCrory’s administration and the legislature have adopted a “first-in-the-nation” model that repeatedly has made things worse.

First North Carolina became the only state in the nation to cut off federal unemployment benefits. Up to 170,000 people lost out on $780 million in federal benefits, and state benefits were reduced significantly. The state’s unemployment insurance system was broken and needed reform, but the changes McCrory and the legislature approved put the burden disproportionately on the unemployed.

Then North Carolina created long backlogs of food stamp recipients when a new computer system was plagued with glitches. NCFAST, as the system is known, is to serve as a one-stop shop for public benefits. But early problems with the system forced county social services departments to delay issuing food stamps – driving people to food pantries. Months passed without McCrory intervening to help these people.

Last week McCrory’s health and human services secretary, Aldona Wos, announced the shutdown was forcing the state to cut WIC benefits – formula and other food for infants, children and pregnant mothers. North Carolina was the only state in the nation to do so. After the Observer editorial board and other media started asking questions, Wos announced money had been found to restart WIC benefits.

Finally, on Tuesday, three N.C. congressmen wrote to McCrory, asking why North Carolina is the only state in the nation to cite the shutdown and stop taking welfare applications. We asked the same thing Monday.

Some 1.7 million North Carolinians receive food stamps. The average check? $133 per month, or about $30 a week. We are talking about scraping by.

So McCrory’s promise of more and faster support for North Carolina’s food banks was welcome. It was also long overdue. And McCrory is no hero swooping in to protect the hungry from those idiots in Washington. He is the choreographer of a political stunt that was actually damage control for his administration’s own shortcomings.

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