Publisher's note: This post, by Brian Balfour, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
- The House and Senate both passed bills to address the impacts of COVID-19, and the government's response, on North Carolina
- While they share many similarities, they also have key differences
The North Carolina House
this week both passed omnibus bills in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government shutdown of the economy.
The primary objectives of both bills include allocating federal funds to respond to the crisis as well as adjustments to public education and healthcare rules and regulations.
The two chambers will now need to negotiate the difference and come up with a mutually agreeable plan.
While the bulk of both bills are the same or very similar, some key differences remain.
This article provides a brief overview of those similarities and differences, with a primary focus on how the two bills allocate funding.
Both the House and the Senate establish the same infrastructure for distributing federal funds. The federal CARES Act
sent $3.5 billion to North Carolina, with the caveat that these funds can't be used to replace lost state and local tax revenue. Funds are to be spent on new priorities to combat the coronavirus spread and the economic fallout from the government's response.
Both bills establish a coronavirus reserve fund to house the $3.5 billion in federal funds. Furthermore, a coronavirus relief fund is set up to actually disburse the federal funds, as laid out in the state legislation.
The House and Senate legislation both allocate less than the full $3.5 billion before the deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, in hopes that Congress will amend the CARES Act and allow states to utilize the funds to fill in revenue gaps.
The CARES Act funds are distributed among dozens of different uses, with the House and Senate both allocating the same or similar amounts. These include funds for (but not limited to):
- $42.4 million (Senate) or $48 million (House) to the UNC System to help pay for costs of moving to online learning
- $70 million to pay for overtime and testing for public safety workers
- $70 mil to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction for summer reading camp
- $80 million (House) and $76 million (Senate) on school nutrition programs, i.e. meal delivery during school closure
- $50 million for personal protective equipment funding
- $300 million for DOT to compensate for falling gas tax revenues
- $350 million (House) or $300 million (Senate) for local government assistance
Moreover, both bills allocate approximately $1.2 billion in federal funds and grants that were approved by Congress but not part of the CARES Act. The largest of these allocations include:
- $95.6 mil for Governor's Emergency Relief Fund
- $396.3 mil for K-12 education relief
- $179.7 for higher education emergency relief
The rest of the funds are largely distributed to various social service causes.
When it comes to deciding how to allocate the federal funds, the two chambers have some differing ideas:
Following are some of the key differences between the two bills:
- Total allocation of CARES Act funds committed for 2020 calendar year
- The Senate plan would allocate $751 million from the relief fund to the state budget office to spend this year
- The House allocates $1.6 billion from the relief fund for the state budget to spend
- Vaccine research
- The Senate appropriates $15 million to UNC-Chapel Hill and $15 million to Duke for research on developing antibodies and a vaccine for COVID-19
- The House allocates $110 million to a general "response research fund" for vaccine research
- Rural and underserved communities
- The Senate bill sends $61 million to DHHS to disburse to "rural and underserved communities especially hard hit" for Medicaid assistance, assistance to hospitals and other health-related needs
- The House bill appropriates $25 million for this purpose
- Additional Medicaid costs. While both bills have provisions for increased Medicaid provider reimbursement and Medicaid coverage of COVID-19 testing:
- The House also allocates $40 million for additional Medicaid costs, while the Senate allocates no additional funds for that purpose
- Funds to rural hospitals
- The Senate appropriates no funds directly to rural hospitals
- The House bill would send $75 million to rural hospitals