NC House gives unanimous OK to $1.7B COVID relief measure

Coronavirus

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina House voted unanimously Wednesday to distribute another $1.7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, with most going toward virus testing and prevention, public university campuses, child-care assistance and transportation projects.

The bill, the latest in a series of measures allocating funds appropriated by Congress to the states, was on the fast track at the General Assembly this week. The Senate’s budget-writing committee prepared to take up the measure early Thursday, with a goal of finalizing it for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper later in the day.

“This bill helps so many North Carolinians,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican and a top House budget-writer. “This is a bill that we all should feel good about.”

Last month, Cooper signed another measure distributing $2.2 billion in federal relief dollars, with nearly all going to K-12 schools and emergency rental assistance efforts. Most of the money coming down from Washington has been authorized by Congress for certain categories of expenses.

Wednesday’s bill also extends deadlines and waivers for several government activities initiated last year due to the pandemic. Some aren’t directly related to COVID. For example, one provision alters a 2019 law that gave child sex abuse victims barred by a statue of limitations until the end of 2021 to file lawsuits seeking damages. The bill would extend that window by another year to the end of 2022.

House Democrats backed the final measure although two amendments from their members were defeated by the Republican majority. Each would have spent state dollars on virus-related initiatives sought by Cooper.

One would have issued bonuses to K-12, university and community college employees ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, while the other would have raised the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit on new claims from $350 a week to $500 and cap the duration of benefits at 26 weeks.

Rep. Wesley Harris, a Mecklenburg County Democrat and sponsor of the unemployment benefit amendment, said the state’s coffers and unemployment trust fund are flush enough to cover these expenses and remain fiscally sound.

“Now is the time to get the aid to those that are still struggling,” Harris said during floor debate. “Are we comfortable going back to our districts … and look them in the eye and say we could not do more?”

A Senate budget-writer said last week that educator bonus proposals would be evaluated as part of the conventional legislative budget process between the two chambers.

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