By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – The N.C. General Assembly approved a nearly $1.6 billion coronavirus relief package May 2 after two days of negotiations.
House Bill 1043 provides federal aid from the Coronavirus Relief Fund for education, small business relief and public health and supports hospitals and underserved communities.
Both the Senate and House proposed their plans for the $3.5 billion of federal aid this week. After deliberating over legislation April 30 and May 1, lawmakers decided to split the bills in half, separating the policy changes from funding allocations. In the final vote of 120-0, the House approved the spending package May 2.
The bill will be effective once it is signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.
“Tremendous amount of work’s gone into this bill to get us to this point,” Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said. “A lot of work over the last 24 hours to reach compromise, and I’m pleased to report that I believe we came out with a really good compromise that all of us can support.”
The original House bill included $1.7 billion in allocations.
Lawmakers reduced allotments to school nutrition programs by $5 million with a total of $75 million, which covers school breakfast and lunches for K-12 students.
Funds set aside for remote classes for students with limited access to internet services were reduced from $5 million to $2 million.
The final bill administers about $16 million less for higher education as well.
Lawmakers agreed to add $9 million from the Senate bill for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology Fund, which provides grants to broadband providers to improve internet availability in rural areas.
Lawmakers decreased funding for COVID-19 research meant to monitor the disease and develop a vaccine from $110 million to $100 million. However, they allocated more money to public health response in rural areas and kept $1.8 million meant to be used to address COVID-19 disparities in rural areas and African-American communities.
Budget negotiators decided to approve the Senate’s plan to funnel $125 million to a small business emergency loan program. The House version of the proposal was $75 million.
The Coronavirus Federal Relief Fund was established through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act), passed by Congress in March. The General Assembly plans to meet later this month to decide how they will distribute the remainder of the $3.5 billion.
“I think every one of us can leave Raleigh today, knowing that this legislation that we passed today is going to mean a lot,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said. “It’s going to help a lot of people. It’s going to save lives. It’s going to save businesses, and it’s a big part of making sure that our state moves forward past this.”