This week, North Carolina will take the next step in reopening. Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 163, moving the state into Phase 2.5 of easing restrictions, beginning Friday, September 4 at 5:00PM and lasting through October 2 at 5:00PM. Phase 2.5 allows playgrounds to open, museums and aquariums to open at 50% capacity, fitness facilities and gyms to open at 30% capacity, and increases the mass gathering limit to 25 people indoors, 50 people outdoors.
As of Thursday morning, in the state of North Carolina, there were 172,209 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 2,347,937 completed tests, 2,803 deaths, and 858 current hospitalizations. As we all continue to feel the effects of the global pandemic and adjust to a new normal, we want to highlight a few ways our clients across North Carolina have worked to support residents and make this time a little easier for those throughout the state. Read more about what our clients are doing to help by clicking here.
For more information on COVID-19 in North Carolina, click here to visit the Department of Health and Human Services website, and be sure to stay up to date on the latest federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by clicking here.
With just 60 days until Election Day, our McGuireWoods Consulting's bipartisan team is hosting a free, virtual panel discussion on the 2020 federal elections, including insights into the presidential, U.S. House and Senate races. This webinar will provide a landscape view of our nation's political scene and insights on potential shifts in the tide in states across the country. Join us on Wednesday, September 16 from 1:00PM - 2:00PM ET. To register, click here.
Lawmakers were back in Raleigh this week, but just for a few days, as legislators met to allocate a portion of the remaining coronavirus relief funds. After just two days of committee meetings and floor votes, both chambers adjourned Thursday sine die, following SJR 870: Adjourn to Date Certain then Sine Die, officially wrapping up the 2019-2020 regular session. However, this may not be the last time legislators make their way to Raleigh this year. Many members are still hopeful that Congress and the federal government will reach an agreement on another funding package and provide modified guidance on how coronavirus relief funds are able to be spent. If North Carolina does receive another round of funding, or the federal guidance is changed, lawmakers may return to make the required appropriations. It remains unclear when, or if, that will happen, though.
The star of the show during this week's brief legislative session was HB 1105: Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, which spends both state and federal dollars, for a total of $1.1 billion. Of the billion dollars allocated by lawmakers, $542 million comes from the remaining funds in the state's COVID-19 fund, $15 million in interest from the fund, and an additional $50 million reallocation of funds originally provided to the Golden LEAF Foundation. Some of the key provisions in HB 1105 include:
- The Extra Credit Grant Program which allocates $440.5 million to go towards providing $335 checks to families with a child under the age of 17. To qualify, parents must have claimed the federal child tax credit. Parents that do not have to file tax returns may still be eligible, but will need to go online to file a request to receive the grant
- Increased unemployment benefits through an allocation of $87 million to the Department of Commerce to go to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. This will allow for an additional $350 a week for those enrolled in the program. The increased payments will begin September 5 and will continue until either the funds run out or the timeline on the funds expires
- The $50 million returned to the General Assembly by the Golden LEAF Foundation will be used to provide funding for the Lost Wages Assistance Program
- $2 million to the Carolina Small Business Development Fund to be used for business advisory services and to deploy capital to small businesses that have experienced losses due to the pandemic
- In total, lawmakers appropriated $115.9 million to go towards education, including:
- $10 million to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to help improve internet connectivity for students
- $5 million to the University of North Carolina (UNC) Board of Governors to help transition to online education and support students impacted by COVID-19
- $13 million to the Board of Governors to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and staff
- $20 million to DPI to provide PPE to public schools in hopes of providing the equipment needed to facilitate in-person instruction
- $5 million to the Community College System to provide campuses with PPE
- $5 million for the Community College System to provide community college campuses with the equipment needed for health care workforce and first responder training programs
- Allows public schools to be held harmless for their average daily membership if there is a discrepancy between their actual and anticipated average daily membership, allowing schools to continue to receive their expected funding amounts, even if their students are not physically at school
- Allows the two virtual charter schools participating in the state's pilot program to increase their student enrollment for one year by 1,000 students for North Carolina Cyber Academy, and by 2,800 students for North Carolina Virtual Academy
- The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will receive a total of $235.8 million to go towards items such as:
- $5 million to provide a grant to NC MedAssist to offset increased cost of services during the pandemic
- $6 million will be divided equally among each of the six food banks in North Carolina
- $5 million to the North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA)
- $52 million to provide PPE and testing for healthcare facilities, assisted living facilities, and senior living centers
- $20 million to establish the North Carolina COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund which will be used to reimburse providers treating COVID-19 patients enrolled in the Medicaid program
- $38 million will go to LME/MCOs to provide behavioral health services
- $25 million to the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation to be distributed to independent medical practices throughout the state with financial needs due to COVID-19
- Lawmakers also provided funding to support child care efforts throughout the state, including:
- $19.85 million to the North Carolina Alliance of YMCAs to establish a grant program to provide remote learning opportunities during the pandemic
- $35 million to provide grants to licensed child care providers
- $8 million to DHHS to provide assistance payments to families using remote learning opportunities for child care
- $6 million to provide PPE to licensed child care facilities
- Allows certain flexibilities for child care licensing requirements to allow community-based organizations to provide school-age care at a remote learning facility
- Provides $5 million for enhanced election support by increasing election worker pay by $100 and providing each county board of elections with a $10,000 grant to assist with their workload
- $10.3 million to the Department of Agriculture to provide meat and seafood processing facility grants
- $2 million for emergency support for milk producers to reduce disruptions in the supply chain
- $750,000 to support local farmers markets and assist operators in purchasing PPE
- $1 million in grant funding to help alleviate some of the financial burden caused by not holding the state fair this year
- Provides an additional supplementary grant of $30 million to the GREAT Grant Program to expand rural broadband
While the majority of lawmakers were in support of the efforts brought forth in this legislation, some were concerned that there were more pressing items to consider. Several members expressed concerns that there was not a conversation around Medicaid expansion during this session, especially as it was one of the largest components of Governor Cooper's proposed budget released last week.
The Governor's budget also included $280 million to provide one-time bonuses to public school employees that did not receive a pay increase last year, $80 million to provide one-time, $1,500 bonuses to UNC System and Community College personnel, $200 million for county and municipal governments, $49 million for the state to stockpile PPE, among other provisions - all of which were either omitted from the General Assembly's version of the bill or funded at a lower level.
The Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 passed both chambers this week with a 44-5 vote in the Senate and a 104-10 vote in the House. The bill now makes its way to the Governor for his signature.
While the main focus was the Coronavirus Relief Act, lawmakers also took up two other bills this week. HB 807: Championship NC Act modifies the Site Infrastructure Development Fund (SIDF) to allow businesses to be eligible for a site development award so long as they invest at least $5 million of private funds in the project, the project has an estimated total economic benefit of at least $800 million, creates at least 35 new jobs, and the business holds at least one men’s championship event within the state every 5-7 years and one women’s professional championship event every 10 years. The bill also reallocates $3.6 million in funds to cover the total annual cost of the contract - $3.5 million from the One NC Fund and $100,000 from the Job Development Investment Grant Special Revenue (JDIG) Fund.
The bill passed the Senate 49-0 and the House 102-12. The economic development project behind this language is to be announced in partnership with the Governor next week.
SB 872: Additional 2020 Appointments appoints members to the North Carolina Child Care Commission, the North Carolina Mining Commission, the North Carolina Medical Board, and the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, among others. The bill passed the Senate 49-0 and the House 114-1.
Both HB 807 and SB 872 will now make their way to the Governor’s desk for his signature.