Republican leaders of the General Assembly announced a sweeping Coronavirus pandemic relief and recovery plan they are expected to quickly pass when lawmakers reconvene beginning Wednesday September 2. The two-day session will prioritize allocation of the rest of the federal CARES act dollars to assist the state’s recovery and response to the virus.
According to Senator Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) the Senate will vote on its third COVID-19 relief package, that totals more than $1 billion.
“This latest relief bill signals a shift from immediate needs, to long-term recovery efforts, included grants for small businesses, additional broadband investments, and supporting families that have been forced to move to online learning,” said Jackson. “One of our top priorities, is providing relief to families from Murphy to Manteo that have been stretched thin during Gov. Roy Cooper’s shutdown.”
Jackson added that parents have been going above and beyond, and that is why the General Assembly is creating a $440 million “Extra Credit Grants” program, that will provide direct payments of $325 to each household with a child.
“With schools closed, parents are facing unexpected financial burdens. Lost hours, childcare, supplemental materials, and more. This assistance is designed to help alleviate some of that burden,” said Jackson.
Other provisions in the bill include:
- This COVID relief package includes a $5 million fund to ensure counties have sufficient poll officials and resources to conduct safe, in-person voting across North Carolina.
- Under this proposal, $3 million would go towards boosting every election day official’s pay by $100 to increase the attractiveness of serving in the positions.
- Another $1 million would go towards an advertising campaign to recruit paid poll workers.
- Finally, $1 million would be distributed in $10,000 grants to every county to support safe voting.
Rural High-Speed Internet Expansion
State Senator Danny Britt (R- Robeson) announced the General Assembly is allocating an additional $30 million to enhance high speed internet in rural areas of North Carolina.
“This pandemic has highlighted the critical need to expand high-speed internet to rural communities. In Robeson County, expanding broadband has a profound impact not only on our students, but also our business community,” said Britt.
That grant funding will be available for Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties, as well as rural census tracts in Tier 3 counties with a total employment of less than 500,000. This funding is in addition to the 24 million that the General Assembly already approved earlier this year for similar efforts. That is on top of the $24 million in funding the GREAT Program has already received.
Expanded School Choice
Senator Deanna Ballard announced an expansion of the popular Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular school choice grant in North Carolina. The General Assembly will increase the income eligibility threshold for families to participate in the Opportunity Scholarship Program from 133% to 150% of the amount required for a student to qualify for free or reduced lunch. That means a family of four making $72,705 can now qualify for a scholarship to send their child to a school that best fits their needs. The General Assembly will also open the program up to more families by removing the cap on the number of Kindergarten and first grade scholarships that can be awarded each year.
“As many public schools chose to utilize remote learning, we saw parents clamoring for educational options, especially those from low- or middle-income families,” said Ballard. “Because of the pandemic, we want to be able to allow more families to have the opportunity to choose the education that is best for them.”
- Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) also announced the General Assembly will help families of children with exceptional needs by expanding the Children with Disabilities Grant Program and the Education Savings Account Programs. The bill includes 6.5 million to accommodate 2,500 families that are on the waitlists for the programs.
“While far from perfect, the legislation does have some pluses. We are happy that schools will receive covid-relief funding and families will be eligible for “extra credit grants” to help address educational and other needs,” said Bob Luebke, director of policy at the Civitas Institute. “Equally important, the bill expands eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarship Program and provides additional funding to help meet demand for the Disability Scholarship Grant.”
The bill reduces regulatory burdens on community-based organizations like YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs to offer safe environments for school-aged children to engage in remote learning, and includes $20 million in grants for those community-based organizations to facilitate remote learning.
- $8 million dollars will go to assist low-income families to offset childcare costs and $35 million for flexible, operational grants so childcare centers forced to operate at reduced capacity and higher expenses can continue to offer child care as a critical service to the community.
Lastly Senator Chuck Edwards (R- Haywood) announced an across-the-board boost to unemployment benefits of $200 per month, or $50 per week.
This will be on top of President Donald Trump’s $300 weekly unemployment supplement. The max benefit, including the Trump supplement, will be $650.This boost would rank NC’s average unemployment benefit #2 in the southeast.
“The legislature will vote this week to increase the benefit, which will last through the end of the year using CARES Act money. It does not require any increased taxes on employers,” said Edwards. “With a high unemployment rate, it’s not easy for someone who loses a job to go out and quickly find another one. That is the point of unemployment assistance: to be there when somebody cannot find a job. It’s needed more when the unemployment rate is high, as it is now, than when it’s low, as it was for the last several years.”