By Brian Skinner, Esq.
Yesterday, the North Carolina state legislature passed a nearly $1 billion spending bill that uses the remainder of the state’s share of federal CARES Act relief money. House Bill 1105, named the The Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, grants all North Carolina households with children up to age 17, a $335 stimulus check called “extra credit grants”, to help offset costs associated with remote learning at schools. The grants will be issued to parents who filed taxes, and for those who didn’t file, they will be able to apply for the grant. Checks will be issued by Dec. 15.
The legislation spends about $440 million of the $903 million of federal CARES Act money that North Carolina must allocate by Dec. 30. The bill includes spending $72 million for PPE, $10 million for internet connectivity and $6 million for food banks.
The legislation had bipartisan support in both the North Carolina House and Senate. The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, the first day of a brief session, by a vote of 44-5, with five Democrats voting against it. The House took the bill up on Thursday, and approved it by a vote of 104-10. The bill is now before the governor.
The bill also includes raising income-eligibility caps for opportunity scholarships, which are vouchers for private school. The state’s plan for reopening school allows local school systems to decide how to operate with remote or a mix of remote and in-person learning with restriction.
The state is required to spend the CARES Act money by Dec. 30. Lawmakers from both parties were hoping for more flexibility on spending from Congress before the session, but that did not occur. As a result, legislators went ahead to spend the $903 million remaining during the brief session.
In West Virginia, Gov. Justice has announced the following CARES Act allocation of the $1.25 billion in discretionary funds appropriated to the state by Congress:
- $150 million: West Virginia CARES Act Small Business Grant Program
- $50 million: DOH projects improving access to medical facilities
- $50 million: Broadband development
- $200 million: Local governments (counties and municipalities)
- $10 million: Hospital support
- $25 million: Local public service districts
- $21 million: Reimbursing the Governor’s Contingency Fund (PPE)
- $57 million: State COVID-19 expense reimbursement and State agency COVID-19-related expenses
- $287 million: Workforce West Virginia 2020
- $400 million: Workforce West Virginia 2021
The governor allocated all of the $1.25 billion received from the federal government without legislative appropriation. However, he has indicated that he has consulted with an informal task force of legislators about how the money should be spent and has indicated that the decision to move $50 million of an original $100 million appropriation for highways construction to broadband expansion was the result of the legislators’ input. Some of his decisions have been controversial, especially his decision to use federal relief money for road-building. Senator Manchin called the decision an improper use of funds intended to provide relief to local governments, businesses, and individuals hard hit economically by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Brian J. Skinner is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegate Committee on the Judiciary and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He has over a decade of experience as an adviser to legislators on legal and political issues related to pending legislation; providing research and legal analysis services to legislative committees; and preparing bills, resolutions, amendments, and other documents for the West Virginia Legislature.