RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Parents who did not receive $335 stimulus payments from the state last year should get another chance to apply for that money, Republican state Sen. Brent Jackson said, noting that re-opening the application process is expected to be in a larger bill dealing with funding tied to the pandemic.
Lawmakers return to Raleigh next week for the first time since the November election, as the state’s COVID-19 metrics continue to worsen.
Last year, the General Assembly voted to allocate about $440.5 million in federal funds for Extra Credit Grants. Parents with qualifying children 16 and younger at the end of 2019 were eligible for a $335 payment.
The state Department of Revenue says about 1.1 million people received the payments but not all eligible parents actually got that money. That left about $62.6 million available to distribute to those families.
People who filed state taxes were supposed to get the payments automatically. However, people who did not earn enough money to file taxes had to apply to get the grants. State lawmakers set a deadline in October for those applications, but that was later extended into December following a lawsuit.
The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy estimated as many as 200,000 families missed out in the initial application period before it was extended. Almost 25,000 additional applications were received after the application window was re-opened late last year, the agency said.
“It was certainly a work in progress to start with, that’s for sure,” said Jackson. “I’ve had a lot of calls and emails and texts of folks thanking us for what we’ve done.”
When asked if state lawmakers should change the process to ensure the money more easily gets to the people it was intended to help, he said, “Well, the news media has done their best to get this information out there, and I don’t know how we could do it anymore.”
Jackson said lawmakers are discussing re-opening applications for the grants for a 60-day period.
Just before he spoke with CBS 17, he said he had been alerted to an issue with the software some tax preparers used. He said it appeared that led to the Department of Revenue being told incorrectly that some people did not have qualifying dependents when they actually did. He said his staff is looking into that to try to make sure more parents who are supposed to get that money end up receiving it.
He said he hadn’t heard of any plans to issue a second round of Extra Credit grants to families.
“There has not been any discussion that I’m aware of to doing this again, but everything is on the table depending on how much money we have to work with,” he said.
Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) said Senate Democrats will be making a stimulus proposal of their own, which they’re still putting together.
“We have billions of dollars that we can get out there right now and put into our economy, so another stimulus on the North Carolina side is one of our top priorities,” he said.
The state controller’s office reported Monday that North Carolina has almost $4.2 billion in unspent revenue, due in part to Republicans and Democrats being unable to compromise on a budget plan during the last legislative session. That amount is in addition to about $1.1 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
When asked what he think the state should do with that money, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said some of it should be used on “overdue” capital projects and also said he would once again support a bond package to pay for road projects and school construction projects, including for upgrades to ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.
Senate leaders have resisted the bond proposal, instead preferring to fund projects as they come along.
Moore said, “We’ve tried this a couple times. The demand is there. Why is that important? Well, they’re going to be turning out more physicians. We need more doctors providing healthcare, not just for COVID but just in general.”
He also said he supports deferring payments of sales taxes for small businesses impacted by the pandemic, mentioning hotels and restaurants specifically.
Last month, Congress voted as part of its latest stimulus plan to make clear that forgiven loans through the Paycheck Protection Program are not taxable. Moore said the state should do the same.
“If someone’s loan is forgiven, that’s treated as income. They pay a tax. I don’t think they should have to do that. I think we need to give that break because really that’s what’s needed right now,” he said.
Sen. Nickel also said Democrats will push again to increase state unemployment benefits. Currently, people can receive a maximum of $350 per week for 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate. He said that should increase to a maximum of $500 per week for up to 26 weeks.
Republicans rejected those proposed changes last year, saying they wanted to ensure enough money remained in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
“If you want to protect your economy from going into recession, the best place to put money is into unemployment to help folks who’ve lost their jobs,” said Nickel.