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Political notebook: Local leaders discuss government stimulus needs

SALISBURY — Leaders in Congress on Sunday announced an agreement on a coronavirus relief package, and North Carolina elected officials agreed that unemployment, relief for small businesses and state and local aid are among the most important pieces lawmakers should include.

After months of negotiation and partisan gridlock, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday evening announced that a bipartisan deal had been reached for an approximately $900 billion coronavirus relief package.

The package is expected to include up to $300 weekly in federal unemployment benefits, $600 stimulus checks per person with criteria similar to the last round of stimulus checks, an extension of the CARES Act funding spending deadline, approximately $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, a one-month eviction moratorium extension and $330 billion in small business aid, which would include more money for the popular Paycheck Protection Program. Additionally, the final package is expected to include tens of billions of dollars for other critical needs, such as transportation agencies, distressed renters and hungry people.

While the draft bill is not expected to include direct aid to state and local governments, the deadline to exhaust all CARES Act funding is expected to be extended for another year. States and cities initially had until the end of the year to spend all the federal CARES Act funding they were allocated.

Mayor Karen Alexander said there is a need to support city and municipalities and counties across the nation. Tax revenue shortfalls could lead to cuts in critical services or the need to raise taxes, Alexander said.

“We don’t want to put a burden on our local citizens when they’re dealing with their own challenges financially,” she said.

State Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said the primary focus should be on those who have lost their jobs and, therefore, are unable to make payments on their homes and utilities. Lawmakers should include a grace period for rent and mortgages as things “gradually return to the ‘new normal'” and people need time to generate income again, he said.

“It’s just not going to go back to normal overnight,” Warren said. “Even if everybody were vaccinated, things aren’t going back to how they were in February 2019. There will be job loss across the board. Take into consideration what life is going to be like moving forward.”

Counties and municipalities need to be taken into account for their loss, too, he added.

“I think help is on the way now that the election is out of the way,” Warren said.

It’s important to take care of small businesses at this time as well as they’ve been shut down with “questionable constitutionality,” he said. Funding should also be dedicated to educational assistance, such as broadband funding and funding for educators.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic party, said he agreed that state and local funding are important as many may face budget shortfalls. Like Warren, Goodwin said now that the election is over, lawmakers will “do what they should have done all along.”

But unemployment and relief for small businesses are among the most important pieces of legislation, Goodwin said.

“It is vital that North Carolinians who have remained unemployed have continued assistance,” said Wayne Goodman, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “It’s equally vital that small businesses receive assistance to help them begin the new year and keep their doors open. Focus on Americans and North Carolinians that need the help the most and not unnecessarily magnify the bank accounts of the super wealthy, many of whom have continued to benefit dramatically throughout the pandemic.”

State Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, said he supports a smaller-scale spending bill that helps employees and businesses impacted by shutdowns. The best stimulus is to reopen businesses, he said.

In a statement on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, said he supported the bipartisan deal.

“I strongly support this bipartisan package to distribute another round of stimulus checks, provide help to Americans who have lost their jobs and provide much-needed loans to small businesses so they can keep their doors open,” Tillis said in a statement. “This bipartisan package is a much-needed bridge for our country’s economic well-being as we begin the nationwide distribution of vaccines so we can safely return to life as normal next year.”

 

Tillis urges passage of ‘Protect and Serve Act’ following killing of Concord Police Officer Jason Shuping

WASHINGTON — Following the killing of Concord Police Officer and Rowan native Jason Shuping last week, Tillis urged his colleagues on the Senate floor Friday to pass the Protect and Serve Act that he introduced.

The act would create federal penalties for those who deliberately target local, state or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

“Three days ago, I came to the Senate floor and spoke in honor of the life of Tyler Herndon, a Mount Holly North Carolina police officer who lost his life just days before his 26th birthday,” Tillis said. “He was laid to rest this week. Now, five days after his murder and three days after my remarks, I’m devastated to report another officer in North Carolina has lost his life in the line of duty.”

Tillis said in light of Shuping’s death lawmakers should “elevate the discussion now” and send a clear message to those who would harm police officers that there will be “dire consequences to pay for it.”

Tillis added that the legislation would only focus on brazen cases of murdering a law enforcement officer.

 

North Carolina to receive more than $720,000 following national Medicaid settlement with drugmakers

RALEIGH — North Carolina will receive $720,688 from a $10.4 million national settlement with Royal Pharmaceuticals LLC and Seton Pharmaceuticals LLC (Royal/Seton).

The settlement last week was reached after the two jointly-held pharmaceutical companies self-disclosed a pricing error that resulted in the underpayment of Medicaid drug rebates to the states from 2013-17, according to a statement from North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

“When companies underpay Medicaid — even if it is accidental — they have to make it right,” Stein said. “I am pleased that my team was able to reach this agreement to repay the taxpayers.”

In July 2018, both companies self-reported an error in their Medicaid Drug Rebate Program (MDRP) data submitted to the North Carolina Medicaid Investigations Division (MID), which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Stein said. Drug manufacturers are required to pay rebates to state Medicaid programs for each of the company’s drugs that are covered by Medicaid.

The error shows that from September 2013 to January 2017, Royal/Seton inaccurately reported the “Market Date” data element that is part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) calculation of each drug’s rebate amount for the two low-potency topical steroid products Derma-Smoothe and its generic, fluocinolone. The error allowed Royal/Seton to underpay their rebates.

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