This Week at the Capital (Special Sine Die Edition)
September 4, 2020
Yesterday, Thursday, September 3, the General Assembly passed everyone’s favorite resolution, sine die, adjourning without appointing a date certain to reconvene. Before they did, however, they also passed a $1.1 billion spending package (House Bill 1105: Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0) for COVID-19 relief – the third such package passed by the legislature in 2020. House Bill 1105 (previously titled COVID/Supplementary G.R.E.A.T. Grant Period) passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support on Wednesday before a bipartisan concurrence vote in the House secured its passage yesterday. The bill has been presented to Gov. Cooper and includes several measures important to the NC Chamber and our members.
Chief among these was a measure to allocate $87 million to provide an extra $50 per week in unemployment benefits to claimants from early September through late December. When the NC Chamber team first heard about this proposal last week, we engaged with legislative leaders to ensure the plan to provide supplementary benefits would not threaten the solvency of our UI trust fund. We soon learned that legislators planned to fund these benefits by transferring the funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the UI fund, which we felt provided a prudent path forward. We also learned they planned to establish a backstop from the General Fund to cover any unforeseen cost overruns. As a result, we joined several other organizations, including Capital Associated Industries, the Employers Coalition of NC, the NC Home Builders Association, and the NC Retail Merchants Association, to send a joint letter to the entire General Assembly signaling our support of the proposal.
Another important measure included in House Bill 1105 will allocate an additional $30 million to fund rural broadband implementation as part of the G.R.E.A.T. Grant program. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed disparities in broadband service and use among certain demographics and communities in our state, at the same time as it has spotlighted the importance of broadband for the future of work and education. This extra funding, which comes on top of $24 million already allocated to this important program in 2020, will aid our ability to improve broadband connectivity and adoption rates in underserved communities across North Carolina.
House Bill 1105 also allocates funding to extend the Job Retention Grant Program. This program, established earlier in 2020, provides funding to assist North Carolina companies who have retained large portions of their workforce. Throughout session, the Chamber has supported efforts to assist companies who have continued to make vital contributions to our economy during the pandemic.
We applaud legislators for working swiftly to pass this latest COVID-19 recovery package and for their willingness to work across the aisle to pass important relief measures this session. For now, the General Assembly has no plans to reconvene, though this could change if federal leaders take action to provide states with additional funding or if Gov. Cooper calls a special session to address other issues. We will alert you if we learn of any plans for the legislature to reconvene. The Chamber team looks forward to working with legislators to continue charting a successful relaunch of our statewide economy.
Additional measures in House Bill 1105 include:
- $440 million to provide parents with a one-time $335 payment to offset costs related to remote learning during the pandemic
- $115 million for educational support
- $45 million for a small business grant program
- $50 million for the Lost Wages Assistance Program
- $75 million to purchase personal protective equipment for North Carolina
- $34 million for COVID-19 testing and tracing
- $44.5 million for hurricane recovery
- $5 million to support safe voting