Pandemic Relief Package Heads to Governor’s Desk

RALEIGH – State lawmakers in the North Carolina House and Senate worked through the weekend to negotiate a deal on a pandemic relief package, which is now heading to the governor for signature. Differences between the House and Senate versions were reconciled by Saturday, and the General Assembly passed the $1.6 billion 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act.

The legislation, which Governor Roy Cooper is expected to sign quickly, funds emergency loans for business owners, waives interest payments on state income and business taxes that were do last month, commits hundreds of millions of dollars to public schools, vaccine and treatment research, coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

The funds for the package come from the approximately $3.5 billion North Carolina is getting as a share of the federal CARES Act and other stimulus packages from Congress.

Trending: CNBC/Change Research Poll Shows Cooper’s Fast-Sinking Approval Numbers Over Recent Weeks, Now Underwater

The House version originally contained partial expansions of Medicaid, long a policy goal of Democrats, but that measure and others were spiked by the more conservative Senate majority. Unemployment benefits were not expanded, after all, but the duration is longer now.

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Here’s a run down of line items from WRAL:

COVID-19 research

    • $15 million to the Duke University Human Vaccine Institute to develop a vaccine
    • $29 million flowing through the NC Policy Collaboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for vaccine and treatment research, as well as community testing and other research
    • $15 million to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, also for research
    • $6 million to the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine for a rural-focused testing and treatment initiative
    • $20 million to Wake Forest University Health Services to expand the antibody study Senate lawmakers already spent $100,000 on

COVID-19 supplies and tracing

    • $50 million to purchase supplies, including PPE, divided up between hospitals (50 percent), senior living facilities (15 percent), doctor’s offices (10 percent) and the state Department of Public Safety (25 percent) for the State Highway Patrol, the North Carolina National Guard and others as it sees fit. Rep. Sydney Batch, D-Wake, expressed some concern during floor debate that the limits would make it difficult to get enough supplies to local first responders. The policy bill lays out plans to create a long-term state stockpile of PPE.
    • $25 million to expand testing and contact tracing through the Department of Health and Human Services. This money won’t be released until DHHS releases statistics the legislature wants to see, including data on underlying health conditions in people who die from COVID-19 and on people with the virus who are hospitalized, then released.

State, local government costs

    • $70 million for state government operations, including overtime costs and supply needs at prisons, as well as for IT costs for remote needs and for temporary staff to help the state unemployment office
    • $300 million for the DOT, but only once the federal government revises its rules to allow it
    • $20 million for state agencies, like the North Carolina Zoo, that have lost receipts due to virus-related closures. Again, the federal government must update its rules first to allow that use.
    • $150 million to replace lost revenue for local governments that have not already received direct funding from the federal government. This, too, relies on a change in federal policy.

School funding

    • $75 million for school breakfast and lunch programs
    • $1 million to improve internet connectivity for students by installing Wi-Fi routers in school buses. The money can be used to buy devices, but not for subscription costs.
    • $30 million to be distributed to local school systems to buy computers and other electronic devices for students
    • $5 million to purchase computers and other devices for school personnel
    • $4.5 million for cybersecurity at schools
    • $10 million for mental health and other services for students
    • $70 million for supplemental summer learning programs, particularly reading and math programs for students from kindergarten through the fourth grade
    • $3 million for “non-digital remote instruction” for students with limited internet access
    • $15 million for grants to cover “extraordinary costs” in schools around the state
    • $5 million targeting at-risk students and including “rigorous, quantitative performance measures” and “an evidence-based model with a proven track record of success”

Universities and colleges

    • $25 million for community colleges
    • $44 million for the state university system to move courses online
    • $20 million in funding for private colleges

Social services, health programs

    • $20 million to DHHS to support local health departments, increase nursing capacity and the number of community health workers and focus on infection control in nursing homes
    • $6 million for food banks
    • $25 million for adult, family and group homes in the state-county special assistance program
    • $50 million for health programs in rural and underserved communities, including minority communities
    • $5 million for the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to distribute to its members
    • $1.5 million to NC MedAssist, a program that helps offset prescription costs for poor people
    • $5 million to the North Carolina Community Health Centers Association to cover treatment costs for its members
    • $20 million for various needs at DHHS, including the purchase and distribution of opioid overdose reversal drugs and $12.6 million earmarked for LME/MCOs that work with disabled people
    • $19 million through DHHS to help food banks, adult and child protective services, homeless and domestic violence shelters and other programs
    • $1.8 million to the Old North State Medical Society to focus on African-American communities
    • $2.24 million to provide a monthly supplement increase of $100 for each child living in foster care
    • $9 million for rural broadband programs

Hospital funding

    • $65 million earmarked specifically for grants to rural hospitals and those in poorer counties around the state. Among other things, this money can be used to cover lost revenues from foregone elective procedures.
    • $15 million for teaching hospitals in the state: Wake Forest Baptist, Duke, UNC, Vidant Medical and Central Harnett
    • $15 million for a general hospital relief fund

Agriculture

    • $15 million to kill and dispose of animals, if needed, due to food supply chain problems

Business

    • $5 million to stimulate tourism, including for a program to “educate people on ways to travel in a safe and socially distant way”
    • $125 million for a small-business loan program through Golden LEAF, providing up to $50,000 per business. This program quickly doled out $15 million when it was created.

Of course, this isn’t the only coronavirus-related legislation the General Assembly will handle. They’ll come back soon to make plans for the rest of the federal funds coming our way, likely putting those toward government operations as the state faces revenue shortfalls due to the shutdown policies’ effects on economic activity.

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