As Congress makes deal on stimulus, North Carolina lawmakers start negotiating their own COVID-19 plans

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- There can be bipartisanship after all.

For the first time in North Carolina history, a group of lawmakers met remotely and in official capacity, tapped by leadership to prepare for the state's own legislative action to address to coronavirus crisis.

"You know I went out of my way to make sure appointment of these committees were bipartisan. In fact, we have bipartisan chairs of these committees," House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland County, told ABC11. "One thing I have asked them to do is for whatever recommendations we come up with, to really look for consensus items."

Officially, the North Carolina General Assembly is in recess until April 28, but Gov. Roy Cooper has signaled he intends to call a special session to address a number of concerns related to the fallout from the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the Speaker announced the formation of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, and divided it into four key working groups: Health Care, Economic Support, Education, and Continuity of State Operations.

"This is a time of all times where government needs to step in and do its part," he said.

Federal Stimulus Deal Reached

Moore, like Governor Cooper, agrees that any legislative action in North Carolina couldn't happen without federal action first, and that appears to be on track as Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced a deal on a mammoth $2 trillion stimulus.

Rep. David Price, the Democratic congressman representing parts of Wake, Durham and Orange counties, aptly refers to the proposed bill as "the big one."

"These are very large and broad ranging impacts," Price said of COVID-19. "There's no state or county that's not affected or soon will be."

The $2 trillion relief package is the biggest in American history, and has three main components:

*Direct payments - $1,200 to single Americans making less than $75,000; $2,400 to couples making up to $150,000 combined, plus $500 per child. The checks get smaller as incomes go up, and cut off for singles making $99,000 and $198,000 for couples without children.

*Unemployment benefits - As layoffs surge across the country, the deal expands key unemployment benefits for those filing, including lengthening unemployment insurance by 13 weeks, plus up to $600 more in benefits to more accurately match missing wages. Altogether, those unemployed could earn 39 weeks of benefits. The deal also widens the pool of those eligible, including freelancers, furloughed workers, and "gig workers" such as ride-share drivers.

*Business bailouts - Perhaps the biggest sticking point in negotiations, the deal outlines a framework for loans large and small to businesses large and small. The loans do come with strings attached, including keeping workers on the payroll and covering benefits, plus limits on stock buybacks and bonuses.

"I am reviewing the Senate's bill in detail and remaining in close consultation with Senators, fellow House members, President Trump, Governor Cooper's office and our local stakeholders," Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican representing the Sandhills, told ABC11. "My top priorities for this legislation and other efforts remain making sure our local health care providers and public health officials have all the resources they need, increasing the availability of tests in our community, helping make treatments and vaccines available as soon as possible, and mitigating as many of the impacts on families, workers and small businesses as possible."

North Carolina has billions of dollars in reserves

For better or worse, North Carolina's current budget stalemate leaves a lot of cash in the bank - up to $2.2 billion. These un-allocated funds join a host of other accounts that give lawmakers an arsenal of cash they could infuse into the state's economy. There is also $3.9 billion in the Unemployment Trust Fund.

"What folks need right now is immediate assistance when it comes to liquidity and getting dollars to folks who have needs who had budgeted but because of unforeseen circumstances now are running short," Moore told ABC11.

The State Senate, likewise, is working remotely on proposals that they hope they can finalize so when there is a special session, there will be limited contact inside the Legislature and as much social distancing as possible.

"Those conversations are providing insight into how the state can and will move forward from this crisis," Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham County, and Minority Leader Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake County, said in a joint statement to ABC11. "In this time of fear and uncertainty, our members have stepped up to the challenge and are taking those ideas and putting them to paper. For now, we are stronger apart than we are together. In the coming days and weeks, proposals from Murphy to Manteo will find their way to Raleigh."
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