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Public Policy Update

Legislative Mini Session Wrap Up

The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) returned to Raleigh on Wednesday, September 2 to allocate more than $900 million in federal Coronavirus money in a quick two-day process. Governor Cooper is widely expected to sign the bill; however, his office did note that they are still reviewing the legislation.

Legislative leaders have stated that they expect this would be the last session prior to next year’s newly elected General Assembly starting its work. However, there is still some lingering hope that if the U.S. Congress approves additional Coronavirus relief monies, a special session could be called by Governor Cooper to distribute those dollars.

Because this session was focused on distributing COVID-19 relief funds, no major appropriations related to autism were expected. There were however some emergency funds for public schools and LME/MCOS were included to address the loss of services and provide additional short-term support. Details of the human services and infrastructure related funds are below.

 

Key Items from the NCGA Relief Package:

  • $20 Million to DHHS/DSS to provide temporary financial assistance in the form of a monthly payment to facilities licensed to accept State County Special Assistance (SA) in order to offset the increased costs of serving SA residents during the COVID-19 emergency. The amount of the monthly payment is $250/month/SA resident for the period commencing August 1, 2020, and ending December 30, 2020.
  • $22 Million to the NC Department of Public Instruction for grants to applicant public school units for services for exceptional children who lost critical services due to COVID-19 related school closures. DPI is encouraged to use additional funds for in-person services for qualifying children.
  • $6.5 Million to the UNC BOG for the State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) for scholarships as an alternative educational option for certain students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • $38 Million to DMH/DD/SAS to provide an additional lump sum allocation of single-stream funds to the LME/MCOs. The LME/MCOs are prohibited from using these funds for any purpose other than to provide eligible individuals direct services associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Section 4.18 requires the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services (Division), to use funds allocated to the Division under this act to collaborate with the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction in establishing a student health collaborative pilot program to assist students with their mental and physical well-being while in a public school setting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Section 3.3 modifies the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program to: (i) no longer cap the amount of funds that could be used for students entering kindergarten and first grade, and (ii) change the income eligibility threshold to broaden who may participate in the program.
  • Section 3.15 extends for five months the validity of a commercial drivers license, a commercial learner’s permit, a handicapped placard, and a special identification card issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles that expires between March 1, 2020, and the date 30 days after the date the Governor rescinds Executive Order No. 116 or issues another order lifting restrictions on Division functions. It also authorizes the Division to waive requirements for medical examinations and certifications for commercial drivers license and commercial learner’s permit holders consistent with any waiver issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

 

Other Highlights from Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0  

  • STIMULUS FOR PARENTS – $440,541,000 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Department of Revenue to finance a “Extra Credit” grant program. The only criteria for receiving a grant is that the family filed a 2019 tax return on or before October 15th, indicated they were State residents for all of 2019 and reported they had at least one child eligible for the federal child tax credit. The amount of the grant is $335 per family. Those households with eligible children, but who have not filed state taxes may apply directly for the $335 in funds.
  • GRANTS FOR STRUGGLING BUSINESSES – $60.5 Million (up from $15 Million) to the Department of Commerce for the Job Retention Grant Program.
  • BONUSES FOR POLL WORKERS – $5 Million nonrecurring in CARES Act funds to the State Board of Elections for the 2020 general election in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • RURAL BROADBAND • $30 Million to the Department of Information Technology for a special supplementary grant period under the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology aka the “GREAT” Act to expand broadband infrastructure and provide Internet access to unserved homes and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS • $87 Million in additional unemployment assistance for the remainder of 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. This will amount to a $50/week increased benefit amount for individuals receiving State unemployment assistance. The increased benefit amount is payable for weeks beginning on or after September 5, 2020.

 

If you have questions please contact Jennifer Mahan at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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