On Tuesday, the North Carolina General Assembly opened its 2020 session with battling the novel coronavirus pandemic as its singular priority, including how to add more relief to the millions of struggling North Carolina families and business owners.
"I'm frustrated, too, I'm eager, too," House Majority Leader John Bell R-Greene, Johnston, Wayne, told ABC11. "What people need to understand is we're here to conduct business for the State of North Carolina because there's a lot of people hurting right now."
The legislative building, known colloquially as "The People's House," was closed to the general public, while all members of the House and Senate, their staff, police officers and the credentialed media passed temperature checks. Only a few lawmakers, moreover, were seated in chambers as the House and Senate gaveled in. Many were wearing masks.
Leading up to Tuesday's session, Rep. Bell has joined many of his colleagues on video conferences as part of House Select Committees on COVID-19.
"It's been kind of like a game of Hollywood Squares where you're seeing people on the board," Bell joked. "It's a multi-faceted approach with what we're dealing with here."
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The House did pass a series of new emergency rules Tuesday, including extending voting time to 40 minutes to allow members to come in shifts, allowing questions to be submitted off the floor, and allowing caucus leaders to vote if designated by a member who wishes to remain at home.
On the House side, members filed separate bills on issues related to small business loans, education and health care. In the Senate, a bipartisan group of 45 senators (out of 50) filed the $1.2 billion Covid-19 Recovery Act.
As spelled out in the legislation, here is how the bill, SB407, allocates most of that cash:
- Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund $95.6 million
- Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund $396.3 million
- Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund $179.7 million
- Child Care and Development Block Grant $118.1 million
- Community Services Block Grant $25.9 million
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program $49.9 million
- Child Welfare Services $1.6 million
- Supportive Services $6.2 million
- Congregate and Home-Delivered Meals $7.4 million
- Congregate and Home-Delivered Meals $14.8 million
- Family Caregivers $3.1 million
- Protection of Vulnerable Older Americans $600,000
- Centers for Independent Living $2.2 million
- Ryan White HIV/AIDS $1.1 million
- CDC Grant $13.8 million
- Minimum CDC Grant $15.4 million
- Homeless Assistance/ ESG - State $18.4 million
- Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS $1.2 million
- Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children $13.9 million
- Community Health Center $78,000
- Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program $2.5 million
- Hospital Preparedness Program $770,000
- Emergency Grant to Address SA $2 million
- Unemployment Insurance Base - Administration $22.5 million
- Unemployment Insurance Supplemental - Administration $22.5 million
- Dislocated Worker Grants $6 million
- Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Commodities $19.7 million
- TEFAP Administration $8.2 million
- Manufacturing Extension $1.5 million
- CDBG - State $28.5 million
- National Endowment for the Arts $507,000
- Institute for Museum and Library Sciences $948,000
- Justice Assistance Grants - State $15.4 million
- Emergency Performance Management Grant $2.6 million
- Family Violence Prevention $777,000
- Urbanized Area Formula Program $38.473 million
- Formula Grants for Rural Area Program $94.941 million
- Airports Grants $2.765 million
Total Estimated Funding: $1.236 billion.
Combined, the House bills might inflate those dollar amounts, at which point the Senate and House will have to come to a consensus and pass a conference bill. Votes on the Senate are expected as early as Wednesday.
Leaders from both chambers -- and both parties -- also predict the action taken this week will be the start of several efforts related to the coronavirus pandemic.