By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – More than $400 million in stimulus checks for parents and supplementary unemployment benefits for workers highlighted a third coronavirus relief package finalized Thursday, Sept. 3, by the North Carolina General Assembly.
The House voted 104-10 to approve House Bill 1105, which sets aside $440 million for parents to help offset unexpected costs related to school closures and an additional $50 a week for unemployed workers.
“North Carolinians all across the state continued to suffer facing numerous hardships in their employment, personal activities, business, church or family,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth. “We’ve all had to face days of uncertainty, stress and major lifestyle changes. None of us have faced a health crisis quite like this.”
The $1.1 billion relief package draws from funds provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in March. States have until the end of the year to spend the aid on COVID-19-related expenses.
If the General Assembly’s proposal becomes law, parents who qualify for the federal child tax credit will receive a one-time $335 payment to offset unexpected costs related to school closures and remote learning.
Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, said the payments would extend up to a married couple that makes $400,000 a year. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said she was concerned the provision would give $125 million to North Carolinians in the top 20% income bracket.
Harrison said that money could have been used to help residents with utilities and rental and mortgage assistance.
The bill also provides about $116 million for education, including funding for equipment and COVID-19 testing for colleges.
More children would be able to apply for school-choice vouchers, and schools will keep their per-student funding from last year because of the measure.
It also sets aside money for greater broadband access, food banks, personal protective equipment, child care services and small business grants.
The Senate passed the relief package, 44-5, on Wednesday. It now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
Democrats said they were left out of the drafting of the proposal and criticized Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate and House, for not expanding Medicaid to more North Carolinians during the public health crisis.
The bill, however, does earmark $20 million for COVID-19 treatment for uninsured people.
“By now, it should be clear to every citizen, every health care professional and even every local business leader that Medicaid expansion will never happen in our state with (the) current leadership,” said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake.