Gov. Roy Cooper says he will sign $1.1B COVID-19 relief package that includes 'Extra Credit Grant' for families into law

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Governor Roy Cooper on Friday said he will sign House Bill 1105, also known as Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, into law.

The $1.1 billion 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.

"This budget followed my recommendations on school enrollment funding and invested in important areas like high speed internet access and disaster relief, but legislators should have done more to expand Medicaid, support small businesses, pay our educators, assist with rent and utilities relief and further help unemployed North Carolinians," Cooper said in a statement. "Obviously I don't agree with every provision, but the funding for pandemic support in this budget is critical and must move forward."

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate passed the COVID-19 relief bill, 44-5. Thursday morning, the House passed the bill 104-10.

"This is a historic day of promises kept for North Carolinians, the culmination of a decade of state government reform by this Republican General Assembly that allows us to continue investing in recovery for all our citizens today," House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday.

Republicans in the legislature said they hoped to help parents struggling during the pandemic.

"Parents are facing an unexpected financial burden from school closures. Expenses like child care, supplemental learning materials, lost wages, and more are adding up," Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said, "The Republican-controlled legislature voted to provide those parents with some relief."

Moore was pleased that the general assembly was able to quickly pass the measure.

"We left a lot of money on the table because we knew there will be things that come up between now and some point later that we're going to have to fill in," Moore said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

HB1105 includes what's become known as the "Extra Credit Grant." It sets out $440 million to send every North Carolina household with at least one child a one-time check of $335. While designed to help families with child care or tutoring school children struggling with online classes, the money can be used for anything.

Critics of the Extra Credit Grant said it will not actually get money to those who need it most, because the money will go to families who filed income tax. There are many families in North Carolina who do not make enough money to file income taxes.

The remaining cash checks off a laundry list of bipartisan priorities, including boosts in funds to COVID19 vaccine research, personal protective equipment, testing supplies, broadband internet access in rural areas, plus an extra $50 a week to those receiving unemployment aid.

"This bill is about equipping the State of North Carolina with tools to help weather the storm of school closures and economic loss," Berger said.

Republicans said the measure is critical to providing choice to parents who want to send their children to a school that currently provides in-person learning.

"I think about that single mother," Berger explained. "Maybe she can see her child slipping. Not grasping concepts. Maybe she knows her child needs to be in a classroom. Why shouldn't she have the opportunity to send a child to a school that's open?"

Public school teachers, however, and their Democratic supporters, have worried the vouchers could negatively affect public schools, which provide education, meals and resources to poor and minority students.

"We know there are many competing uses for dwindling COVID relief funding," Tamika Kelly, a music teacher and president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, asserted. "But it's hard to imagine a more important place to spend it than on public education."

Berger had pointed words about the school-choice issue.

"How can it be that in a society so focused on equality, it's OK for a major political party to say making decisions about your child's education is reserved only for the wealthy elite?" he said. "School choice should not be a privilege available only to those who can afford it. Parental school choice is a right, and we will fund it."
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