Senate Files Bipartisan Bill for COVID-19 Relief

Raleigh, N.C. — Today, the North Carolina Senate filed a bipartisan bill to appropriate or place in reserves $2.4 billion to support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill is the culmination of weeks of bipartisan cooperation and teamwork.

“The virus might have forced us apart, but it brought together ideas from every corner of the state,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said. “From Cullowhee to Currituck, senators have taken on the task of responding to this unprecedented situation. Now that the General Assembly is back in Raleigh, it’s time for us to pass this bill to help North Carolinians move past this crisis and begin to move toward reopening the state.”

In March, Sen. Berger and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) agreed to a process that would give all senators an effective voice in how the final bill should look. The result is a bill that 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.

“There isn’t a single North Carolinian that hasn’t been impacted by this virus in some way,” Sen. Blue said. “It is imperative that we come together to provide relief to our citizens. Our members have worked tirelessly since this pandemic began, and now we have the chance to provide relief to all North Carolinians.”

The funds come from federal money allocated to North Carolina.

“These federal funds allow us to attack this virus and its economic impact on multiple fronts,” Sen. Berger said. “Through supporting immediate needs and long-term research, North Carolina is better positioned to deal with the challenges our citizens are facing.”

Highlights of the bill include:

Appropriations

  • $50 million to purchase supplies and equipment necessary for life safety, health, and sanitation, including ventilators, touch-free thermometers, gowns, disinfectants, and sanitizing wipes
  • $6 million to North Carolina food banks to combat food insecurity
  • $20 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to address animal depopulation and disposal
  • $25 million to the Community College System to enhance online learning and other coronavirus-related expenses.
  • $42.4 million to the UNC System to move classes online, campus sanitation before reopening, and other coronavirus-related expenses.
  • $10 million to Independent Colleges and Universities to help support families impacted by the coronavirus
  • $125 million to Golden LEAF to support small business loans
  • $300 million in a COVID Reserve Fund for the N.C. Department of Transportation to address budget shortfalls if the federal government allows
  • $300 million in a COVID Reserve Fund for local governments to address budget shortfalls if the federal government allows
  • $70 million for summer learning programs
  • $56 million for school nutrition programs
  • $2.25 million to assist in serving foster care
  • $290,000 for the LINKS program, a youth foster care support program
  • $5 million for Visit NC marketing
  • $250,000 for the Department of Information Technology for mobile Wi-Fi hotspots in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties
  • $15 million for the N.C. Collaboratory for COVID-19 research, including vaccine development
  • $9 million for the GREAT program to expand broadband
  • $70 million for continuity of state government, including covering overtime payments at mental health institutions, prisons, juvenile facilities, and veterans’ homes, and purchasing sanitation and hygienic supplies, and a call center for the Division of Employment Security
  • $1.2 billion in other federal funds, including:
  • $95.6 million for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund
  • $396 million for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
  • $179.7 million for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund

Health Care

  • Provides Medicaid coverage for uninsured individuals so they can get tested for COVID-19
  • Health care liability protections for medical professionals who are treating coronavirus patients
  • $25 million for Department of Health and Human Services testing, tracing and trends
  • $15 million for health care facilities that accept Special Assistance
  • $10 million for free and charitable clinics to help treat uninsured individuals
  • $5 million to community health centers to cover costs of treatment
  • $20 million to Wake Forest University to expand its COVID-19 study to include syndromic surveillance and representative sample antibody testing to provide policymakers with near real-time coronavirus prevalence, hospitalization, and fatality data
  • $15 million to Duke University for vaccine development
  • $1.8 million to the Old North State Medical Society for outreach, health education, and testing to address COVID-19 disparities in rural areas and African American communities

K-12 Education

  • Waives end of year testing requirements
  • Requires schools to administer reading assessments to fourth-grade students within two weeks of starting next school year
  • Waives school performance grades for the 2019–20 school year
  • Waives standardized testing requirements, attendance and calendar laws for non-public schools

Higher Education

  • Waives or extends for one year the traditional requirements for teacher and principal preparation programs, student teaching requirements, and exams
  • Extends eligibility for the Apprenticeship Tuition Waiver through the end of the calendar year for community colleges
  • Waives interest charges on outstanding UNC student bills

Department of Transportation

Temporarily extends DMV deadlines, fees, and fines for certain licenses and requirements for six months if they expire between March 1, 2020, and August 1, 2020.

Public Meetings

Clarifies the ability of public bodies (including municipal and county governments) to meet remotely during states of emergency.

Taxes

Waives required interest payments on individual income tax and corporate income and franchise tax returns due on or before April 15, 2020, if those taxes are paid before July 15. The relief applies to tax returns and to estimated tax payments for 2020 due on or before April 15, 2020.

Unemployment Insurance

  • Increases the maximum weekly unemployment benefit to $400 as of August 1, 2020, when the new federal benefits are scheduled to expire
  • Codifies the provisions of the Governor’s recent executive orders related to temporary changes to the unemployment system
  • Codifies the ability of employers to file attached claims
  • Allows a tax credit against the employer’s payroll taxes in an amount equal to the amount of taxes payable on the report filed by the employer on or before April 30, 2020;
  • Directs that no change will be made to an employer’s tax rate as a result of layoffs caused by COVID-19
  • Adopts the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Committee on Unemployment Insurance:
  • Allow a claimant to satisfy one of the weekly job contacts by attending a reemployment activity offered by a local career center that the Division of Employment Security has verified as a suitable credit toward the work search requirement. The claimant will have to verify attendance at the activity to DES
  • Allow an employer to initiate an unemployment claim for employees when the unemployment is due directly to a disaster covered by a federal disaster declaration
  • Provide that a lien for county property taxes does not take priority over a previously filed lien for past due payroll taxes
  • Repeal the sunset of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance
  • Allows DES to interpret flexibly or waive, as appropriate, the following:
  • The one-week waiting period for benefits
  • The able and available to work requirements
  • The work search requirements
  • The actively seeking work requirements
  • The “lack of work” requirements for partially unemployed claimant

The official Medium account for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger’s press office.

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