FILE - North Carolina Capitol building

North Carolina Capitol building

(The Center Square) – A bill that sets aside $2.2 billion for reopening schools, COVID-19 vaccine distribution and rental assistance and compensates more North Carolina parents for remote learning is headed to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Bill 36 was approved by a 117-0 vote in the House on Thursday after it unanimously cleared the Senate on Wednesday, 45-0.

The measure extends the deadline for parents to apply for $335 one-time grants and allocates federal COVID-19 aid provided by Congress in December. The bill releases $39 million for broadband internet expansion, some of which was approved by Gov. Roy Cooper in December, to expand internet access in 18 counties. It also makes changes to the state’s deadline to spend Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to match federal guidance.

The CARES Act funding was set to expire Dec. 31, 2020, before Congress extended the deadline to December 2021.

“The General Assembly is delivering additional relief as soon as possible through bipartisan legislation that ensures state and federal funding reaches North Carolina communities now, and we will maintain this commitment to a strong recovery this session,” Senior House Appropriations Co-Chairs Jason Saine, R-Lincoln; Dean Arp, R-Union; and Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said Thursday in a joint statement.

If Cooper signs the bill, parents who missed an opportunity to apply for the Extra Credit Grant program would be able to seek the $335 grant until May 31.

The program is meant to offset the cost of remote learning. The previous deadline to apply was Oct. 15 before a lawsuit extended it to December. Lawmakers said a software glitch locked tens of thousands of parents out of the program.

Taxpayers who lived in North Carolina for all of 2019 and qualified for the federal child tax credit automatically received the grants. Parents who did not file a 2019 state tax return because they met the income threshold had to apply for the grant. The North Carolina Department of Revenue said in September it found some tax preparation software tools incorrectly reported tax filers as having no qualifying children that would qualify them for the federal child tax credit. 

About $80 million remains out of the $440 million that was set aside for the program.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said about 150,000, North Carolina parents who do not make enough to file income tax returns for 2019 were left in limbo.

"These are the folks that lost their jobs or are getting evicted, who are suffering the most during this pandemic," Harrison said. "So, while I really appreciate what this bill does, I hope that we can continue to focus on those who need the support most."

The legislation allocates $94.7 million to support the state’s vaccination efforts and more than $546 million to assist North Carolinians who are unable to pay rent and utilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another $155 million in federal funds is earmarked for local governments with more than 200,000 residents.

The measure also provides $1.6 billion for North Carolina public and charter K-12 schools to reopen safely and for other COVID-19-related costs. Congress provided the funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed by former President Donald Trump in December.

“This legislation represents a strong beginning to another successful session delivering on our promises to serve North Carolinians in need, and I appreciate the bipartisan work of my General Assembly colleagues to accomplish this important step for families and businesses who are hurting,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.