Political notebook: Ford says governor’s COVID-19 executive orders have overreached

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 13, 2020

As some state representatives are meeting to discuss action needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, N.C. Senate members are participating in virtual meeting with their caucus, said Sen. Carl Ford, R-33.

The meetings are largely focused on unemployment and looking at the state constitution to ensure Gov. Roy Cooper is in compliance when issuing executive orders. One of Ford’s concerns are the emergency powers that gives the governor, county commission chairs and mayors the ability to make decisions without a discussion or a vote.

Ford said constituents have contacted him, saying they think the governor’s action in ordering businesses to shut down has been an overreach. Business owners have contacted him to say they are barely hanging on now, Ford said. If the closures of dine-in restaurants continues for another four to six weeks, those restaurants could go out of business.

Ford said Cooper didn’t propose any action to amend the state constitution because legislators would have to vote on changes, put it on the fall ballot and come back to meet, similar to voter identification. He said the governor should have called the General Assembly back into session to discuss and vote, which could have been done in a day or two. It would allow state leaders to get “a taste of what people are thinking all over the state.”

The state senator said he understands the importance of public health and safety but says there will be other problems if the economy doesn’t restart soon.

On a daily basis, Ford said, he is flooded with calls, emails and Facebook messages about people trying to file for unemployment and struggling to get through the system.

“People are hurt and they need help,” Ford said. “We’re trying our best to help them out.”

Ford said he wants the stay-at-home order to be completed at the end of the month. If it needs to be extended, businesses should be allowed to slowly open up, such as a restaurant allowing to operate at 50% capacity.

Ford said the Division of Employment Security needed extra resources and a group of Republican senators, including him, reached out to Tony Copeland, Department of Commerce secretary, to see what they could do to help. Their letter was sent on April 2 and signed by 20 senators.

“We continue to hear daily, if not hourly, from our constituents about the ways in which the Commerce Department’s unemployment benefits system cannot respond adequately to the rapid increase in unemployment claims,” the letter stated. “These citizens are rightfully anxious about their newly desperate circumstances.”

The senators ask what has been done to increase manpower and technology and if the entire workforce of the Department of Commerce should be repurposed to the Employment Security division. They asked what assistance is needed before they return to session on April 28.

Ford said the department hasn’t made needed changes, like adding service hours, call centers and employees to assist people filing for unemployment benefits.

“Lord, do we have a mess, a first-class mess,” he said.”It’s not working very well in that department.”

Lockhart Taylor, assistant secretary for N.C. Employment Security, said during the House Economic Support Working Group meeting last week 200 extra people were being added to assist those filing and was sharing a frequently asked questions document with answers to help constituents. He admitted the department’s server has been overwhelmed with the amount of claims and that he understood frustrations.

As of Saturday, more than 475,000 people have filed for unemployment and cited COVID-19.

Berger, Moore push for DMV inspection deadline extension

Senate Leader Phil Berger, R- 30, and and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-111, issued a joint statement Thursday about extending vehicle inspection deadlines.

The two wrote they support passage of legislation to extend the deadlines when the General Assembly reconvenes.

“Until such legislation passes, we support bureaucratic flexibility on compliance with the existing deadlines,” they wrote. “Based on our communications with the Executive Branch, we understand that the Department of Public Safety and State Highway Patrol are doing just that by not prioritizing enforcement.”

Berger and Moore said they continue to work with Gov. Roy Cooper’s team to identify and resolve issues facing North Carolinians in the COVID-19 crisis.

Tillis announces funding to assist health care providers

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., announced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award more than $919 million in grants to 6,906 health care providers and health systems in North Carolina to assist with the COVID-19 response.

North Carolina’s health care providers are on the frontlines, working around the clock to combat COVID-19 and we must ensure they have the resources they need,” Tillis said. “The first round of funding provides more than $900 million to our health care providers that are keeping us safe, and I will continue to work on bipartisan basis to get our country through this “crisis.”

The funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, that was passed overwhelmingly by Congress last month.

It will support health care-related expenses or lost revenue attributed to coronavirus and ensure uninsured Americans can get the testing and treatment they need without receiving a surprise bill from a provider.