On May 2, the North Carolina General Assembly approved a $1.57 million COVID-19 relief package. Votes in both the House and the Senate during the Saturday session were unanimous, marking the legislature’s first response to the pandemic.
The $1.57 billion package contains funding for education, health care, small business loans, food banks, medical research, testing and $50 million for personal protective equipment — but not all issues were featured in the final bill, many vital issues were left out.
After waiting a month to respond to the pandemic, the legislature still failed to address two important issues out of the relief package; improving unemployment benefits and health insurance for the working poor.
While the House didn’t get the temporary Medicaid expansion for coronavirus patients it wanted, the chambers agreed to increased funding in rural health and small business loans.
They did not increase the maximum amount of unemployment weekly benefits to $400, as the Senate had wanted.
Also, a House plan to allow restaurants and bars to serve mixed drinks as take-out or delivery orders was nixed in the final bill, according to Berger’s office.
Lawmakers also had disagreed over what to do with the state’s current mandate for schools to reduce class size in kindergarten through third grade. Schools must continue to change staffing and buildings to reduce class sizes. The House wanted to waive that requirement for a year. In the end, they dropped that delay, but Rep. David Lewis said lawmakers can take up the issue when they return.
The Senate, led by Phil Berger, declined a partial Medicaid expansion proposed by the House to cover COVID-19 treatment costs for people under a certain income threshold — the final bill contains increased funding for Medicaid in general.
Despite unemployment claims over one million in NC, a proposal to increase the state’s weekly maximum on unemployment benefits was also cut.
Lawmakers also declined a series of election policy changes and funding requests from the State Board of Elections, including efforts to make voting safer for North Carolinians.
The two latest bills are backed by an abundance of federal money but the legislature retained its unwillingness to help jobless workers or low-income North Carolinians, regardless of the pandemic.
Another session is expected later this month as the legislature must decide on how to allocate the $3.5 billion in federal funding from the Congress’ stimulus bills.
Lawmakers continue to work towards the bare minimum, despite the current public health crisis. During this time period, no individual should receive the bare minimum of any protections, support or resources. All of our safety and health matters, but the Republican lawmakers don’t care.