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NC Senate OK’s bill distributing federal COVID relief money

By Bryan Anderson
Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — North Carolina state senators on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to distribute money the state has secured through the federal government’s December stimulus package.

If approved by the House and subsequently signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, schools would get $1.6 billion to help reopen classrooms with in-person instruction, purchase educational technology and reduce learning gaps that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated.

Over $546 million in federal funds would go toward emergency rental assistance to North Carolinians in need of help, while nearly $95 million would be given to the state Department of Health and Human Services to assist local health officials in the distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines.

The state is on track to receive more than 145,000 new first doses over the next three weeks from the federal government.

The coronavirus relief bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday also supports direct payments to more parents.

Parents who missed an opportunity last year to get $335 checks to help offset childcare costs and expenses associated with remote learning would have until May 31 to take advantage of the so-called Extra Credit grants. The bill extends the program that expired in the fall and paves the way for thousands of families still eligible for the direct checks to receive them.

Many parents who want to put their kids back in physical classrooms are not presently given the option to do so. A separate bill backed by Republican lawmakers would force districts to provide at least partial in-person instruction to all of the state’s 1.5 million students, though parents must still be given the option to let their children continue learning remotely.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday urged school boards to transition away from remote-only offerings but declined to require it. He opposes the bill introduced by Republicans, which has drawn the ire of teachers advocates concerned about safety and lack of vaccine prioritization. As House members consider the coronavirus relief bill on Thursday, senators will hold a floor vote on the school reopening proposal.

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