Governor Roy Cooper used his Wednesday afternoon briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic to pithc his proposed new budget for North Carolina--$25 billion including funding for COVID-19 recovery, unemployment, small businesses, food banks, housing, and disaster relief.
Part of the money--$978 million would come from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. That money must be spent by the end of this year. The rest would be the state's responsibility.
Cooper's budget plan includes a one-time $2,000 bonus for K-12 public school teachers, principals and assistant principals, a $1,000 bonus for K-12 non-certified personnel, and a $1,500 bonus for UNC System and community college faculty and staff. It also includes $50 million for the state's most at-risk students and for early childhood education.
The proposal also includes $86.5 million in disaster relief funds for areas still recovering from hurricanes plus $5 million for local governments in rural communities that are struggling financially.
Cooper proposed issuing two sets of bonds: one $988 million bond that would include funds for statewide broadband access, a new DHHS facility, isolation units for mental health hospitals, prisons and long term care facilities, and vaccine research and development.
The other bond, which would require a public vote next year, would allocate $4.3 billion for schools, higher education, water and sewer infrastructure and affordable housing. .
Cooper said he hopes the General Assembly will approve more funding for unemployed North Carolinians, including raising the cap on weekly benefits from $350 to $500 per week and extending the eligibility period to 24 weeks.
During a question and answer period, Cooper said the state's application to secure a $300 weekly benefit for each unemployed North Carolinian from the Federal Emergency Management Association has been approved. He said he hoped by next week, unemployed North Carolinians who qualify for the funds will receive three weeks worth of benefits; but he also urged Congress and President Trump to continue to work to restore the $600 extra weekly benefit that expired at the end of July.
Cooper also lobbied again for Medicaid expansion, which he said would not cost the state anything, but would be covered by federal funds and private health insurance companies. Cooper cited unemployment due to the pandemic as a critical reason why Medicaid expansion is urgent. "Because of the pandemic, a lot of people lost their jobs, and their health insurance. Now is the time to expand Medicaid," Cooper said. "It provides health insurance for working people whose employers don't provide insurance and who can't afford private insurance."
Cooper's budget ideas were quickly rejected by most GOP legislative leaders including Senator Kathy Harrington of Gaston County and NC House Speaker Tim Moore of Cleveland County. Harrington joined two other Republican state senators in a joint statement, calling Cooper's proposals, 'spend now, pray later.' Moore said federal crisis funding including CARES Act relief should be sufficient.