Done right, Medicaid program can lift up vulnerable North Carolinians

By Sharon Darling - Guest columnist
Darling -

As North Carolina awaits approval of new requirements for many of its Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer in order to receive benefits, we must ensure the program is as meaningful as possible for those impacted.

Simply put, we need to do it right!

The Tar Heel State needs substantive programming around its 80-hours per month requirement for able-bodied people to either work or perform community service. If done correctly, doors could be opened and we could see North Carolina citizens’ lives and communities transformed. Volunteering and community engagement can lead to participants learning workforce skills, which leads to attaining jobs.

This isn’t just “pie in the sky” wishful thinking. The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), a national non-profit, has seen transformation of individuals and communities across the country when people are able to contribute, to volunteer, to work and see the benefits of their actions. NCFL works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families.

By tying volunteerism to the ultimate goal of getting people job skills and into the workforce, this can be a win-win situation for both the participants and the communities where they live.

Over the past 30 years, and with the help and partnership of Toyota, we have impacted the lives of more than 2 million families in 150 cities and 39 states (including North Carolina). Much of what we have done can be duplicated under the umbrella of new North Carolina Medicaid requirements:

Participants decide what issues are important in their community – such as safety and security, environmental stewardship, financial literacy, effective education systems, transportation, and health. They then investigate how to address these issues and execute their projects.

Families are strengthened through two-generation literacy programs, such as NCFL Family Learning, that include Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®, Parent Time, and family-to-family mentoring. Bonds are strengthened and whole families are lifted to attain their true potential.

Adults learn/gain computer skills, academic skills and skills for teamwork, problem solving, and communication (all crucial for employment).

Research shows more than half of participants in NCFL Family Learning programs in 2017 earned either a high school equivalency or GED®.

By helping vulnerable adults reach the first rung of the ladder, they are able to begin contributing to their community and that gives them pride, a sense of accomplishment and dignity. This allows people to have a say in their community as to what needs to be fixed and then do something about it. One result is they will be viewed as part of the solution.

These positive results could be further amplified by pulling together several programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and creating a comprehensive system to improve the human condition and move people to self-sufficiency.

Despite the unemployment rate sitting at a 45-year low, there are more than 7-million U.S. citizens not able to find a job. Many of them are able and willing to work, but they don’t have the skills or clear steps to change their situation. Studies show this lack of skills prevents full participation in an increasingly competitive work environment. Additionally, people with poor literacy skills are more likely to report bad health, trust other people less and be less involved in their local communities.

Volunteering is certainly laudable and is beneficial for both the volunteer and the recipient of the service. However, volunteering can also be much more substantive for those who need basic job skills and a path to employment if they follow a skill-building process instead of random acts of giving. Why not take those meaningful skills to the next beneficial level and use them to secure a job?

Yes, the Medicaid work requirement is controversial. But, if it does go into effect, North Carolina needs to put forth the framework and programming to provide vulnerable people meaningful community engagement opportunities that will benefit them in the long-term.

A comprehensive system would make North Carolina an example to the rest of the country. Let’s set the standard for raising up families so they may begin to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty through community engagement and work-skills training.


By Sharon Darling

Guest columnist

Sharon Darling is the president and founder of the National Center for Families Learning.

Sharon Darling is the president and founder of the National Center for Families Learning.