North Carolina lawmakers moved swiftly to approve a COVID relief bill. It's now up to Gov. Roy Cooper to sign the bill, which was approved by Senate and House.
"This is good news that the General Assembly is moving quickly to appropriate the money and get it out to people who need it," said Jim Barrett, executive director of Pisgah Legal Services. "We can't get this money fast enough, can we?"
The package allocates money the state received through the federal government's stimulus package passed more than six weeks ago.
It includes nearly $95 million for the state Department of Health and Human Services, boosting efforts help local health officials distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
The legislation would also distribute $1.6 billion to help school districts reopen classrooms for in-person learning.
"Increased costs around cleaning and sanitation. Really, I think it's broad how that money can be used to help reopen schools," State Sen. Julie Mayfield, of Buncombe County, said. "As we're moving into spring, as our numbers are going down, more and more schools are going to back to in person learning."
In addition, $546 million in federal money would go toward emergency rental assistance. Barrett said the a significant investment meets the moment.
"You know, in the mountains, we have high heating bills, and people can be in big trouble if they can't afford their heat," he said.
"So, our unemployment system standing alone as North Carolina has not carried people through in the way that it really needed to," Mayfield said. "So, we have a lot of people that simply don't have money coming in right now. That puts them at risk for eviction."
Meanwhile, Cooper announced emergency supplemental budget recommendations at a Thursday news conference. The proposed budget includes hundreds of millions in state funding on top of billions from the federal government.
"People need help immediately, and we have both the means and the power to give it to them," Cooper said. "Many families are living on the edge during this pandemic, and we can do more to help businesses and help keep people in their homes."