During a Thursday afternoon press conference, Gov. Cooper played out his plan to spend the $4 billion in federal money earmarked for North Carolina in the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021,″ which was signed into law on Dec. 27.
“North Carolinians have stood strong during this pandemic and we are ready to move our state forward. The past year has tested all of us but we must work together on a focused, responsible plan to help families and businesses survive and grow strong while we bolster our economy and health care system and make sure students and teachers are in classrooms ready to learn. We can emerge from these challenging times stronger than ever,” said Governor Cooper.
The new federal funding is strictly proscribed, and with General Assembly appropriation, will provide vital COVID relief such as vaccines, more supplies to slow the virus spread, help for rent and utility bills, and more funding to put food on the table. Federal funds will address:
Approximately $2 billion for emergency assistance for public and private K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
$336 million for childcare and development block grants.
Approximately $700 million for access to vaccines and testing, tracing and prevention measures to slow the spread of the virus.
$546 million for emergency rental assistance, which will build on North Carolina’s current work. While this is the first dedicated federal funding for rental assistance, North Carolina recognized the extraordinary need to help people stay in their homes during the pandemic and created the HOPE program to pay back rent and utilities using last year’s CRF funds.
$258 million for Highway Infrastructure and $65 million for airports.
$47 million for Community Mental Health Services.
Funding for food assistance programs, such as SNAP and school nutrition.
In addition to the federal allocation plan, the Governor recommends investing $695 million from the state’s General Fund to address other immediate needs. Despite the pandemic, North Carolina’s budget availability remains strong, with more than $4 billion in unreserved cash in the General Fund. Among the needs facing North Carolina businesses and people, the Governor recommends addressing:
Continued hazard duty pay for state employees on the frontlines of COVID-19, especially law enforcement and corrections personnel who face COVID-19 every day. ($50 million)
Replenishment of the North Carolina State Health Plan, which has incurred significant costs responding to COVID-19. ($64.5 million )
Bonuses for educators and school personnel in public K-12 schools, Community Colleges, and the University System. These educators were not a part of the raises approved in the last biennium for state employees, yet they have done extraordinary work to teach, feed, and care for students throughout this pandemic. This would be a one-time bonus of $2,500 for teachers and principals, $1,500 for school personnel in public K-12, and $2,000 for workers in community colleges and universities. ($468 million)
Extending the reach of high-speed internet to all corners of the state and other urgent connectivity initiatives, such as IT infrastructure, security for community colleges, and enhancement of 35,000 hotspots used for education. ($30 million)
Support for small business with a particular focus on historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), including small business counseling, marketing for tourism and hospitality, ReTOOLNC program for HUBs, and the business loan program at Golden L.E.A.F. ($37 million )
Expansion of state unemployment benefits, which are still among the lowest in the country. Our healthy Trust Fund balance and the ongoing need of North Carolinians out of work due to the pandemic means we can and should help now. North Carolina should increase the maximum duration of benefits to 26 weeks– the median amount offered nationwide–and increase the maximum benefit from $350 to $500 per week.
“I appreciate the work of legislators to quickly pass vital relief as the state responded to the pandemic last year and I believe we can work together to get the job done again. Our communities and people face serious challenges and we must come together to identify areas of common ground and help our people beat the pandemic and thrive once again,” said Governor Cooper.
As Governor Cooper was announcing his recommendations on the state funding — members of the North Carolina General Assembly approved Senate Bill 36, which appropriates $95 million of the federal aid funding.
Senate Bill 36 allocates nearly $95 million in a federal relief package Congress passed in December to health care providers, local health departments, and hospitals for coronavirus vaccinations, about $1.6 billion to help schools reopen and ensure our students, teachers, and staff can safely return to in-person learning and more than $546 million in emergency rental assistance. An additional $155 million in rental assistance will go to local governments with more than 200,000 residents.
The bill also gives parents of school-aged children additional time to apply for $335 state grants to help pay for online learning expenses and provides $39 million in state tax money to expand broadband in rural areas.
The General Assembly’s proposal to spend the federal funds varies greatly from what Gov. Cooper has proposed, but now the spending package will be sent to the Governor’s desk for consideration before being signed into law.