Cooper signs COVID relief bill distributing federal money

Cooper signs COVID relief bill distributing federal money
New data shows students can safely return to classrooms, teachers remain concerned (Source: Emily Wakeman)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has signed a bill from state lawmakers that will distribute money approved by Congress for reopening schools, improving vaccine distribution and helping people pay their rent. Many parts of the proposal mirror that of a supplemental request of Cooper.

Still up for discussion is an effort by Cooper to provide direct one-time checks to teachers, principals and staff members.

The COVID relief package Cooper signed includes another opportunity for parents to get $335 checks to help offset costs they’ve incurred associated with childcare and remote learning. Parents who missed the initial deadline will have another chance to apply for the check.

Cooper is also recommending a $695 million investment to address the state’s immediate needs for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cooper is recommending this as emergency recovery and resilience investments. The governor broke it down into three parts: defeating COVID, building back the economy and looking forward to building a more educated, skilled workforce.

“As we remain focused on keeping people safe and healthy, we must work to ensure that our state is in position to thrive both during and after the pandemic,” Cooper said. “We must make certain that North Carolina remains Strong, Resilient and Ready. This recommendation comes after consultation and input from both Republican and Democratic elected leaders, educators, health experts, businesses, workers and more.”

In addition to the federal allocation plan, the governor recommends investing $695 million from the state’s General Fund to address other immediate needs. Among the needs facing North Carolina businesses and people, the governor recommends addressing:

  • $50 million for continued hazard duty pay for state employees on the frontlines of COVID-19, especially law enforcement and corrections personnel who face COVID-19 every day.
  • $64.5 million for the replenishment of the North Carolina State Health Plan, which has incurred costs responding to COVID-19.
  • $468 million for bonuses for educators and school personnel in public K-12 schools, community colleges and the university system. Educators were not a part of the raises approved in the last biennium for state employees. The governor is proposing one-time bonuses of $2,500 for teachers and principals, $1,500 for non-certified public school employees and $2,000 for employees with community colleges and universities.
  • $30 million to extend high-speed internet to all corners of the state and other urgent connectivity initiatives, such as IT infrastructure, security for community colleges and enhancement of 35,000 hotspots used for education.
  • $37 million to support small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic and often don’t have large cash reserves, including small business counselling, marketing for tourism and hospitality, ReTOOLNC program for historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), and the business loan program at Golden L.E.A.F.
  • Expansion of state unemployment benefits, which are still among the lowest in the country. The governor says North Carolina should increase the maximum duration of benefits to 26 weeks and increase the maximum benefit from $350 to $500 per week.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. WBTV contributed to this story. All rights reserved.