This Week’s Short Session
On Wednesday, September 2, the legislature returned to Raleigh to fast-track HB 1105-Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, which allocates the remaining federal CARES Act funding to address the state’s needs. In the spring, North Carolina received $3.59 billion from the federal legislation, and $903 million remained. Without the federal government providing additional guidance on how states should spend the money, the legislature was left to distribute the remainder of the federal funding before the end of the year.
The Senate moved HB 1105 quickly through the legislative process. After a lengthy debate on the Senate floor that focused on issues such as the lack of Medicaid expansion or higher unemployment insurance benefits, HB 1105 passed by a vote of 44-5 Wednesday evening. On Thursday, the House also engaged in debate about Medicaid expansion, but ultimately the bill passed the House in a concurrence vote of 104-10.
Highlights of the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 include:
- $440 million to provide $335 “Extra Credit” grants to parents who are suffering from financial burdens related to K-12 school closures, with checks being issued by December 15;
- $10 million to improve Internet connectivity for students learning remotely through the purchase of devices;
- Additional funding for a temporary increase to unemployment insurance benefits by an extra $50 a week until the end of the year;
- $25 million for the North Carolina Medical Society to allocate to independent medical practices with demonstrable financial needs related to COVID-19;
- $20 million to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund to reimburse providers enrolled in Medicaid for the treatment of uninsured patients;
- $34 million for COVID-19 testing and tracing;
- $75 million for personal protective equipment (PPE);
- An additional $45.5 million for the Job Retention Grant program, which is aimed at helping small businesses avoid layoffs;
- $30 million for the Department of Information Technology to use for the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (G.R.E.A.T.) Fund to improve rural broadband;
- $1.5 million for the One NC Small Business Fund for fostering job creation and promoting research and technological development in response to COVID-19 among eligible businesses;
- $ 1 million allocated to the Department of Commerce for economic marketing efforts by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC);
- $19.7 million to provide direct aid to museums, arts organizations, and cultural and historical attractions that have been closed since the start of the pandemic, including $2.5 million for the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation;
- Over $14 million for the innovative PPE-NC Program to leverage community colleges to produce PPE;
- and $5 million to the State Board of Elections to prevent and prepare for COVID-19 and recruit poll workers for the November election.
“This bill is about equipping the State of North Carolina with tools to help weather the storm of school closures and economic loss,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
Despite the General Assembly’s passage of this COVID-relief bill, the Governor outlined a competing plan for the use of the remaining federal CARES Act funding last week. Governor Cooper’s proposal, Support for a Determined North Carolina, includes spending measures such as one-time bonuses for teachers, Medicaid expansion and infrastructure bonds. Additional details about the Governor’s proposal can be found here.
With HB 1105 being sent to the Governor for his consideration, it is unclear what action he will take since the legislature’s latest spending measure does not include Medicaid expansion. However, the bill passed today received strong bipartisan support from both chambers. A statement from the Governor’s Office about the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 can be found here.
Other Legislative Business
This week the House and Senate also considered a few additional bills that included SR 871-2020 SBCC Vacancy Election, an appointment to the State Board of Community Colleges; SB 872-Additional 2020 Appointments, an update to the annual appointments bill due to resignations and deaths on state boards; and HB 807-Championship NC Act, an economic development bill that would provide incentives for a business that plans to bring major professional championship events to the state. SB 872 and HB 807 passed both chambers and will be sent to the Governor for his consideration.
Sine Die Adjournment
The legislature adjourned sine die on Thursday, which means the House and Senate will not return unless they are called back into special session by the Governor. There is some speculation that if Congress provides additional funding to states then a special session could be called. The January 2021 convening of the General Assembly will mark the beginning of the biennial long session.