By Michael Hyland | May 19, 2021 at 10:51 PM EDT – Updated May 20 at 2:45 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) proposed sending families checks for up to $500 Wednesday as part of his plan to spend more than $5 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Cooper dubbed the plan “Extra Credit Grants 2.0,” saying he wanted to continue the program Republicans in the General Assembly approved last year when they authorized $335 checks for families with children.
“This is a good idea put forth by the legislature. It has helped a lot of families. We included this in our proposal because of the input we got from a number of legislators that they would like to continue it,” Cooper said.
Under his plan, there would be income limits on who would qualify for the checks this time.
A married couple filing jointly and making up to $30,000 would be eligible for a $500 check. A couple making between $30,000 and $60,000 would be eligible for $250. A single person making up to $15,000 would be eligible for $500 while a single person making up to $30,000 would be eligible for $250. Income amounts are based on 2019 Adjusted Gross Income.
The checks would cost about $250 million, which comes out of the $5.7 billion allocated to North Carolina under the American Rescue Plan. Cooper estimates about 660,000 families would qualify.
“We decided we would propose an income limit because we need to try to get the money to the families that need it most, and plus it can make that payment to those families larger,” Cooper said.
The first round of Extra Credit Grants went to families regardless of income.
In a statement, Sen. Brent Jackson (R-10th District), who was a leading proponent of the first round of Extra Credit Grants said in a statement, “As with most budget issues, some of Gov. Cooper’s proposals will have support and some will not. We appreciate the Governor for engaging with us on his recommendations over the past week as we continue our work to appropriate state and federal funds.”
A group of Republicans in the House filed a bill last week calling for grants of $1,000 per child, with a maximum of $3,000 per family.
Cooper proposed a wide variety of ways to spend the money from the American Rescue Plan, including $1.2 billion to increase broadband access to make Internet connectivity more affordable. He proposed $575 million for affordable housing, $350 million for grants for the hospitality industry and $800 million for water and wastewater infrastructure.
Ahead of Cooper’s announcement, a group of state and local government employees met with members of the General Assembly urging them to reinstate hazard pay for frontline essential workers and to address staffing shortages, particularly at some state healthcare facilities.
Dr. Rakesh Patel, a physician at Central Regional Hospital in Butner, said the hazard pay that ended in January should be reinstated until the state of emergency ends. The hospital is one of the state’s three psychiatric hospitals and overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We’re still working in a pandemic. We still have the state of emergency. We are still taking care of COVID positive patients. And, our work entails taking care of patients thar require very close care,” said Patel, who is president of the Butner area chapter of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union.
He said that would also be a way of addressing staffing shortages that the pandemic has exacerbated.
“We’ve had staffing shortages up to 20 to 30 percent,” he said. “At the level we’re at, we may not be able to provide the level of care our patients need, and that’s gonna lead to safety issues for them and the staff.”
DHHS Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen noted that when the department gave employees hazard pay earlier in the pandemic it was during a time when vaccines were not available, when PPE was hard to get and there were concerns about child care.
“I think now we’re in a different moment. Vaccines are widely available. We’ve made them available on campus at our healthcare facilities for all of our DHHS workers. We obviously have enough PPE,” she said.
Cooper’s plan does call for reinstating hazard pay for nurses and travel nurses at hospitals run by the Department of Public Safety, noting “the department has reached a critical and unsustainable vacancy level for the nursing positions at its prison hospitals at Central Prison and NC Correctional Institute for Women.”
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