A COVID-19 relief bill passed through the North Carolina General Assembly with unanimous support and is now waiting for Gov. Roy Cooper to sign it.

The votes were 45-0 in the Senate and 117-0 in the House. The House approved the bill on Thursday.

District 3 N.C. Rep. Steve Tyson said that if Cooper signs it, Senate Bill 36 will put approximately $18 million into Craven County Schools.

“We hope it will be used to help get our kids back in school and allow failing students to attend summer school to get caught up,” Tyson said

Throughout the state, the bill puts $39 million for rural broadband internet development, $95 million to help with vaccine distribution, and $547 million to Hope funds to help individuals with utilities and rent.

Deficiencies in rural internet access have made online school difficult and in some cases impossible for many parts of North Carolina.

District 2 N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, whose district includes Craven County, co-sponsored the bill in the N.C. Senate, and Tyson and District 79 N.C. Rep. Keith Kidwell, who both represent parts of Craven County, voted for it in the N.C. House.

These are all federal funds, Rep. Tyson told New Bern Post.

Here is the revised bill as passed: link.

On Thursday, Governor Cooper outlined a plan for allocating federal COVID-19 relief funds for immediate needs and investing state resources to help North Carolina communities build back as the state turns the corner on the pandemic. 

The Governor’s early plan calls for investing federal stimulus funds along with some state resources for immediate critical needs. Governor Cooper’s plan would invest the state’s share of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 which was signed into law Dec. 27. The federal appropriation totaled more than $4 billion for North Carolina. A fuller proposed biennial budget will be presented later in the legislative session.

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:

  • $50 million for 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.
  • $64.5 million for the replenishment of the North Carolina State Health Plan, which has incurred costs responding to COVID-19.
  • $468 million for bonuses for educators and school personnel in public K-12 schools, community colleges and the university system. Educators have stepped up in extraordinary ways during the pandemic but were not a part of the raises approved in the last biennium for state employees. 
  • $30 million to extend 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.
  • $37 million to support small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic and often don’t have large cash reserves, including small business counselling, marketing for tourism and hospitality, ReTOOLNC program for historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), and the business loan program at Golden L.E.A.F.
  • Expansion of state unemployment benefits, which are still among the lowest in the country. Despite the pandemic forcing thousands of people to lose their jobs – particularly in the restaurant and service industries – North Carolina’s Unemployment Trust Fund remains healthy, with a balance of more than $2.59 billion. North Carolina should increase the maximum duration of benefits to 26 weeks and increase the maximum benefit from $350 to $500 per week. 

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