By Clayton Henkel February 4, 2021
NC POLICY WATCH
With the North Carolina Senate fast-tracking legislation to require a return to in-person instruction, Governor Roy Cooper rolled out an emergency budget plan Thursday aimed at easing that transition.
In addition to federal stimulus spending, the governor’s plan calls for $695 million dollars to be appropriated from the unreserved General Fund balance to address a number of immediate needs.
Topping the list, Gov. Cooper said educators left out of the last budget cycle deserve to be recognized with $468 million in bonuses for their hard work during the pandemic.
If approved, this would mean a one-time bonus of $2,500 for teachers and principals, $1,500 for non-certified public school employees, and $2,000 for UNC and Community Colleges personnel.
“We need this boost to keep them on board and to reward their hard work,” Cooper told reporters at Thursday’s briefing.
Another $30 million would be used to extend high-speed internet throughout the state, including 35,000 student hotspots to help improve educational access.
The governor’s budget would also earmark $50 million for hazard duty pay for frontline state employees, specifically law enforcement and corrections personnel.
The budget blueprint would provide $10 million more for North Carolina’s food banks, plus an additional $4.5 million for housing legal services support.
Gov. Cooper is also urging lawmakers to expand the duration and amount of state jobless benefits – increasing the maximum amount from from $350 to $500 per week with a maximum duration of 26 weeks.
“Even before the pandemic, North Carolina had some of the shortest and stingiest employment benefits in the country. Now is the time to fix this,” said the governor.
The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund currently has a balance of $2.59 billion.
State Budget Director Charlie Perusse
State Budget Director Charlie Perusse said this nearly $700 million package will be considered as legislators also make decisions on the remaining $4 billion in federal COVID relief funds over they next few weeks.
Perusse said highlights from that federal allocation include:
Approximately $2 billion for emergency assistance for public and private K-12 schools and higher education institutions
$336 million for childcare and development block grants.
Approximately $700 million for access to vaccines and testing, tracing and prevention measures to slow the spread of the virus.
$546 million for emergency rental assistance, which will build on North Carolina’s current work.
$47 million for Community Mental Health Services.
The state’s consensus revenue package for the current fiscal year and a projection forecast through 2023 will be made available by the end of next week.
On Thursday, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed its own emergency COVID relief bill.
Cooper said many of the ideas in that bill are ones they mutually agree upon.
“We hope that we can come together on legislation that appropriates this money.”