Governor Cooper Proposes Budget to Continue Fighting COVID-19
Governor Roy Cooper this week shared a recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021. North Carolina has yet to pass a State Budget for 2020-2021 because the COVID-19 crisis pushed back tax filing deadlines from April 15 to July 15, making it more difficult to estimate revenues for this fiscal year.
Even with this uncertainty, it is important to pass a budget that uses remaining coronavirus federal funding and make responsible investments in the state’s future with the revenues we know we have.
North Carolina has more than $900 million left in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds from the federal CARES Act. Here is Governor Cooper’s plan to spend these funds:
· $175 million for critical public health services including:
· $25 million for testing and tracing;
· $50 million to target rural and historically marginalized populations; and
· $40 million for early childhood services;
· $49 million to build a state strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE);
· $132 million to help K-12 public schools to protect students, teachers and staff and ensure students most impacted by COVID-19 receive support;
· $200 million in aid for local governments facing budget shortfalls;
· $50 million to establish an emergency grant program to expand high-speed internet access;
· $27.5 million to combine with other funds to create a $50 million relief program to support NC businesses with rent, mortgage and utility relief;
· $18 million to combine with other funds to create a $33 million grant program for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) that have been left out of other support programs;
· $25 million to provide equipment for health care and first responder workforce programs at community colleges to continue the state’s pipeline of necessary, qualified workers;
· $25 million to research obstacles to reliable, rapid COVID-19 testing;
· $50 million in direct aid to food banks, emergency feeding organizations, and community organizations for food and nutrition assistance.
The Governor’s budget also proposes a responsible investment of North Carolina’s state dollars to ensure the state has a stable foundation to succeed in the long-term and emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger.
· A one-time $2,000 bonus to K-12 public school teachers, instructional support personnel, principals and assistant principals.
· A one-time $1,000 bonus to K-12 non-certified public school personnel.
· A one-time $1,500 bonus to UNC System and NC Community College System personnel.
· $50 million to support the highest needs students, schools, and districts and early childhood education as a part of the state’s commitment to providing a sound basic education to all students.
· $86.5 million to provide state matching funds for FEMA Recovery programs from Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Dorian and Isaias, and to assist with recovery in Alleghany County after the August 9 earthquake.
The Governor’s proposal is just a first step, but it is a good with. Next legislators will work on their proposal. Whatever the legislature passes will end up going back to Governor Cooper for his approval or veto.
Supporting North Carolinians Out of Work
Governor Cooper’s budget also proposes a responsible expansion of the state’s unemployment benefits program. Currently, North Carolina has the worst benefits in the country for unemployed workers.
Cooper’s proposal would increase the duration of available benefits from 12 weeks to 24 weeks and increase the maximum weekly benefit to $500. Any formula-driven unemployment insurance tax increases would be suspended through 2022. This proposal would keep the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Balance above $2 billion. There is currently $3.05 billion in the fund.
Closing the Health Care Coverage Gap
Governor Cooper’s budget also recommends expanding Medicaid to cover 600,000 more North Carolinians who are currently in a health care coverage gap. Expansion is 90% funded by the federal government with the remaining cost paid by health care providers and insurance companies, leaving the state with no additional cost.
This will save lives, most importantly, but it will also bring billions of dollars back to North Carolina in federal funding to create health care jobs and expand our health care infrastructure.
Investing in Critical Infrastructure
Through the use of bonds, North Carolina can take advantage of historically low interest rates to improve the state’s health care infrastructure and response to COVID-19 as well as make other critical investments in schools, water and sewer systems and affordable housing.
The Governor proposes a $988 million health care infrastructure limited obligation bond to support health facilities, public health labs, and vaccine development. In addition, his budget recommends placing a $4.3 billion infrastructure general obligation bond on the November 2021 ballot that would invest:
· $2 billion in school construction;
· $800 million for water and sewer infrastructure;
· $500 million for UNC System facilities;
· $500 million for the Community College system; and
· $500 million for affordable housing.
Each $1 million in investment sustains or creates up to 13 direct jobs and 28 indirect jobs, helping support the economy as it recovers.
$175 million in COVID-19 relief for rent, utility help available for NC, governor says, The News & Observer, https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article245237590.html