RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Senate passed a COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday that spends about $1 billion in response to the pandemic, including sending stimulus payments to parents.
The bill passed by a 44-5 margin and now goes to the House, which plans to vote on it Thursday.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly unveiled the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 earlier this week, including $335 in direct payments to households that have at least one child.
It’s unclear if Gov. Roy Cooper (D) will sign it.
“I know $335 isn’t gonna pay off a mortgage, but it’ll put a dent in the cost of electronic devices or help pay for a tutor,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R). “I really am not worried about how parents will spend that $335. All I know is they need it. They deserve it.”
If the bill ultimately passes, it’s not clear yet if Gov. Roy Cooper (D) will support it. Details of the Republican plan were released Tuesday, at which point he said he intended to review it.
The legislature reconvened this week to vote on how to spend about $903 million in remaining funding from the federal CARES Act, which Congress required be spent by the end of the year.
The stimulus payments will cost about $440 million, according to Senate Republicans.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully to make various changes to the relief bill Wednesday, including expanding Medicaid and boosting unemployment benefits higher than Republicans have supported.
“We’ve got our priorities and that’s public education, that’s Medicaid expansion and investments in unemployment insurance. And, we don’t have that in this budget,” said Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake). “Helping people, stimulating the economy is good. But, the question is, what are we not doing by giving money to families?”
Republicans included a temporary increase to state unemployment benefits of $50 per week, which would last until the end of the year. That’s in addition to $300 per week in federal benefits recently authorized by President Donald Trump in an executive order.
If the bill ultimately becomes law, the $335 stimulus payments would be distributed by Dec. 15.
In a news release, Senate Republicans said this is how the payments would go out:
“The Department of Revenue (DOR) will query its tax records to automatically generate a check to tax filers who claimed a child in 2019.
“While the DOR search will capture the majority of eligible households and automatically issue checks, some will fall through the cracks. Parents who did not have any tax liability or were not required to file tax returns will still qualify for the program, but DOR will not automatically find them. Those parents will be able to apply for the $335 Extra Credit Grant to ensure they receive the funds.
“The maximum income eligibility to receive the Extra Credit Grant will be identical to the federal threshold for the Child Tax Credit. There will be no minimum income requirement.”
The bill does not include one-time bonuses Gov. Cooper called for in his budget proposal last week. Those bonuses range from $1,000 to $2,000 for K-12 and higher education employees.
“We will absolutely push for these needed bonus payments for teacher pay. If we want to invest in public education, we’ve got to recruit and retain quality educators. And, parents understand that right now,” Sen. Nickel said.
Sen. Berger said, “I wish Gov. Cooper had not vetoed the teacher pay raises that we passed last year, but he did. And so, here we are.”
The bill holds public school districts harmless for enrollment drops this year. Enrollment numbers are directly linked to funding for schools. Wake County school administrators last week urged the legislature to do this out of concern the enrollment drops could lead to layoffs.
Republicans also included a provision to increase the cap on income eligibility for Opportunity Scholarships, a state-funded program that helps low- and middle-income families pay for private school tuition.
Gov. Cooper has been critical of the program for years, saying it pulls funding that could otherwise go to public schools.
Sen. Berger has urged families to consider applying for the program this summer as many public school districts opt for Plan C, which is all remote learning.