The North Carolina House and Senate passed a $1 billion coronavirus relief bill, which will now head to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk for his signature. The legislation determines how to spend about $903 million in funding the state received from the federal CARES Act Congress passed in March. The package will include direct stimulus payments for parents.
The Coronavirus Relied Act 3.0 includes a $335 direct payment to households with at least one child. The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday 44-5, and the House passed it 104-10 on Thursday, reports CBS17. "I know $335 isn't gonna pay off a mortgage, but it'll put a dent in the cost of electronic devices or help pay for a tutor," Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said this week. "I really am not worried about how parents will spend that $335. All I know is they need it. They deserve it." The stimulus payment program will cost about $440 million. "We left a lot of money on the table because we knew there will be things that come up between now and some point later that we're going to have to fill in," House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, said, reports ABC11.
Democrats tried to make some changes to the bill, including Medicaid expansion and higher unemployment benefits but were unsuccessful. As the bill stands, it provides a temporary $50 increase to state unemployment benefits through the end of the year. This would be in addition to the $300 per week federal unemployment benefit President Donald Trump authorized with an executive order last month. Without the extra boosts, North Carolina's unemployment benefits pay residents about half of what their weekly salary was, reports WRAL.
Although most Democrats ultimately voted for the bill, they have also been critical of a clause in the bill that would allow a more significant percentage of lower-income families access to Opportunity Scholarships and private school vouchers. Republicans argue that this will enable parents to send their children to in-person learning. Public school teachers and Democrats argued against the vouchers, saying it could harm public schools that need funding during the pandemic.
The bill also includes more funding for coronavirus testing and tracing, as well as personal protective equipment. It also gives Election Day poll workers an extra $100. Most public schools will not face cuts based on enrollment while students are learning remotely. Some funding will address natural and aid businesses trying to keep their employees during the pandemic. If the bill is signed immediately, the $335 stimulus payments could be sent out to residents by Dec. 15.