As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” That is why it is imperative that members of the North Carolina General Assembly continue to support Gov. Cooper’s veto of the state budget.

In its current form, the budget fails to expand Medicaid to provide hardworking North Carolinians with access to affordable health care and makes historic cuts to the agency charged with protecting our health and safety. Too often the only access North Carolinians have to health care is when they call 9-1-1. Short of that, their only other choice is to suffer through the illness and pain.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly have chosen to double down on this status quo and leave many of our neighbors to suffer with their infirmities. Federal funding is available right now to provide more than 500,000 people with affordable health coverage that would give them access to the preventive care they need to stay healthy. Yet Republican leaders stubbornly refuse to bring these available funds to North Carolina. In so doing they are not only depriving eastern North Carolina and rural communities across the state from improving their health and bolstering their rural hospitals, but also benefiting from much-needed economic investment and job growth.

Thirty-seven other states — both red and blue — have set aside politics to do what is good for the people they were elected to serve. In states that have expanded Medicaid, more babies — particularly black babies — live to their first birthday and fewer women die during pregnancy. The share of people with uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure drops. Cancers are diagnosed earlier and access to treatment improves. Fewer people die from cardiovascular disease.

People’s health improves and so does the community’s health. Expanding Medicaid is an engine for economic growth. In North Carolina, it would create over 37,000 more jobs by 2022. It would also increase state and county tax revenues by over $600 million. This is exactly the economic boost that rural communities need. Yet, state Republican leaders continue to deny us these benefits.

Far from moving North Carolina forward, the budget Republican leaders are working so hard to pass takes us backward. It gives the Department of Health and Human Services a historic cut that will harm the health and safety of millions. This is the agency that supports adult protective services, provides early intervention for our infants and toddlers, oversees restaurant inspections, conducts criminal background checks on child care providers, and provides many other essential services that we take for granted.

The process by which the Republican budget has been presented and carried out is extremely disturbing. At a time when the state has a $700 million surplus, the budget imposes a crippling cut on the agency responsible for supporting North Carolinian’s health and wellbeing, refuses to expand Medicaid, and fails to provide full funding to build a new Brody School of Medicine.

Their action leaves it to legislators of the future to come through with funding needed to complete the project. We need a new Brody School of Medicine, and members of the General Assembly like Sen. Don Davis have been fighting for it. Republican leaders have presented North Carolinians with gimmicks rather than meaningful policy that serves our collective interests. Fortunately, Gov. Cooper’s compromise recognizes that we need these investments now and fully commits to them.

I am grateful to our Democratic legislators for standing strong for our constituents. I particularly appreciate the bold leadership of our eastern North Carolina senators — Don Davis, Milton “Toby” Fitch and Erica Smith. They have been steadfast in their commitment to sustain Gov. Cooper’s veto.

Access to health care for low income populations is worth fighting for.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, represents the 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Pitt County.