N.C. Policy Watch: GOP COVID-19 relief bill fails to help people in need

On Friday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed a $1 billion coronavirus relief bill into law. The COVID-19 relief bill seeks to spend more than $900 million in funding left over from the $4 billion sent by Congress as part of the CARES Act.

The bill, proposed by Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly last week, allocates the $1 billion in federal relief into school enrollment funding, high speed internet access, poll worker protections and disaster relief, but fails to address teacher bonuses, Medicaid expansion and evictions, while raising weekly unemployment benefits by a measly $50.

From N.C. Policy Watch:

In HB 1105, General Assembly leadership acknowledges that North Carolina families and communities face enormous hardships, but makes only token gestures to help people survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina can and should allocate the remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds to meet the pre-existing needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. However, the proposed appropriations in HB 1105 fall far short of acknowledging the scale of current need, much less setting the state up for a strong, inclusive recovery. 

The Band-aids in HB 1105 would not be as necessary if we have been truly funding public services for years. It turns out that there are harsh consequences to cutting taxes for the rich and big corporations:

Legislators in 2012 could have chosen to invest $500 million in building affordable housing. Instead, lawmakers gave a tax break on pass-through income. (The provision subsequently repealed due to bipartisan agreement that it was poorly targeted). Had lawmakers used the money for housing, communities would have had more affordable rental options.

If legislators had chosen in 2013 to drive dollars back into public school budgets rather than cut taxes for the rich and big corporations, schools would have had technology budgets and infrastructure that could support remote learning in this pandemic. Schools would also have health and support personnel on staff to support children’s recovery from the trauma of this pandemic.

In 2013, had legislators raised the minimum wage and boosted the pay of every educator from early childhood through post-secondary education  fewer North Carolina families would be living paycheck-to-paycheck. Instead, lawmakers cut taxes for the rich and big corporations.

If legislators in 2013 hadn’t reduced access to, and cut the value of unemployment insurance, so that employers didn’t have to pay higher taxes to address their debt, state unemployment insurance would more fairly compensate workers who have lost their job due to COVID-19. The benefits would have lasted longer would have been more accessible.

If legislators had expanded Medicaid in 2014, more people would have had access to affordable health care and prevention to manage chronic conditions that make some North Carolinians more at risk for COVID-19.  Expansion would have drawn down federal dollars; instead North Carolina has a patchwork of charitable care to meet the health needs of the state’s uninsured, people who are essential to our collective recovery from this pandemic. Because of job losses thus far, an estimated 825,000 North Carolinians would benefit from Medicaid expansion.

The bill also failed to address support for small businesses, utility shutoffs, extended food assistance, while injecting privatization schemes that continue to undermine traditional inclusive public schools.

The Republican-led proposed package that includes the “Extra Credit Grant Program” that would send one-time checks for $335 to all families in the state with children, is enormously wasteful and inefficient, as it would exclude over 460,000 families who make too little already to pay state income taxes.

Yet, the package does set aside funds for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment. In addition to increased poll worker pay and funding for Election Day preparation.

Years of underinvestment by the NCGA, particularly by Republican leadership, have left North Carolina playing catch-up during this public health and economic crisis. 

Even during a pandemic, the legislature would rather take half steps to address needs and adjourn until January, than to pass meaningful legislation to help millions of people in North Carolina survive the pandemic. 

Bottom Line: Legislative leaders have ignored the realities of the majority of our state’s population and chose to prioritize giving tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations for years. The opportunity for our lawmakers to fix long-standing unmet needs was now, but they chose  — like always — politics over people

Alanna Joyner

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