(The Center Square) – A multibillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package cleared the North Carolina General Assembly on Thursday.
Senate Bill 172 includes about $6.4 billion in pass-through federal grants for education, child care, public health, long-term care, food benefits and housing and rental assistance.
"What this bill does is it takes the money from the feds and allocates it the way the feds are telling us to allocate it," House Appropriations Committee Senior Chair Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said.
The funding was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. North Carolina received more than $16 billion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic through the federal measure, Senate appropriation leaders said.
States can use federal aid to address revenue losses caused by the pandemic, cover costs incurred by responding to the crisis and provide recovery support, according to the U.S. Treasury. Federal guidelines specify the support can include "assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, and aid to impacted industries." It also can provide "premium pay to essential workers and make necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure."
SB 172 creates state, local and capital reserve funds so the General Assembly can allocate the remaining federal aid in the future.
Notably, the bill earmarks $1 billion for rental assistance to be dispersed among 16 regions in the state. A dozen counties received rental and utility assistance funds directly from the federal government. The largest tranche was $49 million, which was earmarked for Mecklenburg County.
The biggest rental assistance allocation from the state was more than $107 million for counties categorized under Region G, which includes Alamance, Caswell, Davidson, Montgomery, Randolph, Rockingham, Davie, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties. The bill also sets aside $273 million for homeownership assistance. Lawmakers said the money would be granted to residents who apply based on their needs.
The deadline for parents to apply for a $335 grant to help cover costs associated with remote learning is extended to July 1 under the bill.
Many low-income families that qualified for the program did not apply, according to a report released last month by the state auditor's office. The previous deadline for the Extra Credit Grant program was May 31.
About $440 million was set aside for the program, which initially was scheduled to expire Oct. 15, 2020. The grants were provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and were approved by the General Assembly in May 2020.
Gov. Roy Cooper recommended continuing the grant program Wednesday in his spending proposal for an additional $5.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The new version of the plan would issue $250 to $500 payments to low- and middle-income parents.
SB 172 also authorizes new grants for learning loss administered through the YMCA of the Triangle Area. It also raises the cap from $25,000 to $35,000. It directs the state budget office to reallocate $10 million of unspent federal coronavirus aid to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety's Division of Emergency Management for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance Program.
The Senate gave SB 172 the final approval, 39-0, on Thursday. The House approved the bill, 100-2, earlier in the day. It now heads to Cooper for consideration.
Lawmakers also decide how the $5.7 billion in direct aid that state is scheduled to receive will be spent. Cooper's plan also includes more money for education, businesses, medical research, internet access, local governments and tribal communities.