By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – The N.C. House voted 117-1 on April 30 in favor of House Bill 1043, which would allocate nearly $1.7 billion from the more than $4 billion earmarked for North Carolina in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Funds were allotted in the House bill for health care, research, education and state and local government operations. The bill also accounts for an additional $1.2 billion in federal grants and direct aid for state agencies.
HB 1043 – dubbed the Pandemic Response Act – was a bipartisan effort by the House. Members formed a special committee to work on the details of the legislation based on stakeholder needs and public input.
“We’ve had honest discussions. We’ve had lots of working together, and we had differences,” said Rep. Jason Saine, R- Lincoln. “And we worked very hard to iron those out so that we could get a very good product that we have before us today.”
Metro areas in the state received $480 million from the federal aid, leaving the state with around $3.5 billion to allocate. The House plan would disburse $300 million to smaller governments under HB 1043. Another $110 million in the bill would be retained by the state for operations and to cover revenue loss.
The Coronavirus Relief Fund, under HB 1043, would be mostly used to support hospitals, health care centers, underserved communities, foster care children, domestic violence and child abuse victims and for testing and monitoring the disease. Medicaid funds would also be used to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for uninsured residents.
HB 1043 allocates $234 million for schools, including $80 million for school nutrition and $70 million for summer programs.
The bill also includes waivers for testing school report cards and grade-level retention.
“Teachers, principals, superintendents across the state have reached out to us to share their concerns, pour their ideas and be involved in how we have developed, what I think we can all be proud of is, a terrific response to a terrible crisis, terrible crisis,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R- Union. “1,600,000 of our students have been out of school since early March.”
North Carolina colleges and universities would receive $103.6 million from the House allotments.
HB 1043 also calls for spending $110 million on research and more than $350 million to enhance public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
HB 1043 also includes several policy changes.
It extends Division of Motor Vehicles deadlines, permits emergency video notarizations and remote ID renewals, waives certain powers of attorney rules, helps local governments hold remote meetings, bumps up employment benefits and offers tax relief to North Carolinians included in a smaller measure filed April 28.
The bill now heads to the Senate for review.
The Senate approved its plan for the federal aid April 29, with a $300,000 difference in spending.
The Senate proposal includes $125 million for small business loans and $290,000 for the LINKS program, a youth foster care support program, which is absent from the House proposal. Also missing from the House’s bill is funding for health disparity testing to examine COVID-19 trends among African-Americans.
The House set aside more funds for school nutrition programs and rural hospitals.
The House bill also calls for using state Medicaid to expand health coverage to North Carolinians with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level. This was not included in the Senate bill.
Final negotiations on the allocations are expected to start May 1.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said April 30 lawmakers should be conservative with the federal dollars in case of a shortfall in the future.
“Do we really want, six months from now, to be thinking that we wish we would’ve saved some more of the CARES Act money so we didn’t have to find hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding cuts? I don’t think so,” Brown said.