RALEIGH — The N.C. General Assembly convened on April 28 and worked this week on a package to provide relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 1043, the Pandemic Response Act, was passed by a 117-1 vote April 30 in the N.C. House of Representatives.
This bill will provide $1.7 billion for COVID-19 relief in N.C., according to a statement released by House Speaker Tim Moore. These funds will “(provide financial assistance to) small businesses, streamlines access to unemployment benefits, modifies education requirements, ensures continuity of government operations and supports health care facilities on the front lines of the public health crisis.”
Rep. Ray Russell, who represents Ashe and Watauga counties, issued a release on April 30 shortly following the vote of approval. He noted that the bill “now goes to the N.C. Senate for its consideration.”
“I am glad to work across party lines to support this bill,” said Russell. “It is not perfect, but will do a lot of good. I will keep working on needed long-term fixes that we did not address today like Medicaid expansion, strengthening the unemployment system for laid-off workers and improved family leave.”
The Senate voted 48-0 on April 29 to pass its own version of the COVID-19 relief bill totaling $2.4 billion, according to Senate Leader Phil Berger.
Berger released a statement on April 28 about Senate Bill 704, saying the bill “not only addresses immediate needs for personal protective equipment to fight COVID-19 on the front lines and to support testing for uninsured North Carolinians, but also funds long-term studies and vaccine development, and supports small businesses.”
“Negotiations are underway now to work out a compromise between House Bill 1043 and Senate Bill 704,” said Russell. “Hopefully, that compromise will be reached this week and this money will start flowing quickly to North Carolinians, state agencies and small businesses.”
Differences between the House and Senate bill lie in specific language that dictates who receives funding and how much.
The House allocated funding to the following programs, according to Russell:
- $75 million in small business assistance loans through Golden LEAF
- $50 million for personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 supplies
- $25 million for expanded testing and tracing
- $125 million for grants to North Carolina hospitals
- $80 million to help local schools with school nutrition
- $70 million for summer K-12 learning programs
- $82 million for remote K-12 learning
- $35 million for K-12 mental health services
- $25 million for North Carolina’s community colleges
- $79 million for North Carolina’s universities
- $110 million to create a COVID-19 Response Research Fund in state universities to work on a vaccine and other innovations
- $300 million for transportation projects and jobs to make up for declining gas tax revenue that normally funds transportation
- $350 million for local governments struggling with COVID-19 costs
- $25 million to public health departments and rural providers
- $40 million for COVID-19 Medicaid costs
- $25 million for behavioral health
- $6 million to food banks
- $25 million for domestic violence shelters, housing and adult/child protective services
- $2.25 million for foster care
- $25 million for rural and underserved areas hard hit by the epidemic
In its bill, the Senate allocated funds to similar efforts and programs, but differed in the amount of funding.
In addition to supporting the approval of House Bill 1043, Russell also co-sponsored House Bill 1040 to expand Medicaid within the state on April 29.
“Medicaid expansion would not only help North Carolinians with their health care, but it would also create jobs and boost pay checks as we recover from COVID-19,” said Russell. “In Ashe County alone, a Cone Health Foundation report estimates we would create 84 jobs, $13 million in new business activity and create $250,500 in new county revenue.”
Russell added that the same Cone Health Report would “create 279 jobs in Watauga, alongside $51.6 million in new business activity and $648,500 in new county revenue.”
A longtime advocate for Medicaid expansion, Russell said it “should have happened years ago. If it had, we would be in better shape today to deal with COVID-19. It is time for us to join 38 other states in this common-sense step.”