Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Governor Roy Cooper signed a second round of relief funding for the state, a measure that garnered unanimous support in both the House and the Senate. The Ratified House Bill 1023 spends the remaining portion of $4 billion in federal CARES Act funding that the state was responsible for disbursing.
As part of the additional funding, most North Carolina counties will receive a share of an additional $150 million – bringing the total to $300 million in relief funds for local governments. Macon County received $150,000 from the first round of relief money and is expected to receive the same amount, which will require that 25 percent of the monies be distributed to the town of Franklin and the town of Highlands. The relief funds can only be used for expenses directly incurred as a result of COVID19 such as purchasing PPE equipment for staff, technology to allow remote work, or overtime pay for employees directly working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
In the last week of May, Macon County received $833,000 in federal CARES Act funding which was slated to be divided between the county and the Town of Franklin. The funds also came with the stipulation that they be spent on expenses related to the pandemic.
Macon County received additional funding from the relief grant as $1.5 million was set aside for grants targeted for areas of the state that are most dependent on travel and tourism economic – which is Macon County’s largest industry.
In addition to the additional funding for local governments, the second round of relief funds specifically allocates $7 million for local school districts to purchase PPE equipment for when school resumes this Fall.
While most of the items in the relief bill increased the amount of funding and extended deadlines by which the funds had to be spent, additional measures were included to specifically address needs which have been identified since May. To aid small businesses in the state, House Bill 1023 includes $15 million for job retention grants for businesses and nonprofits that were excluded from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The package also sets aside funding for tourism, marketing and technology advances for the state.
Funding was also allocated to educational resources in the state such as the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for the State Library’s NC Kids Digital Library and NC Museum of History to enhance digital offerings to students lacking physical access due to measures in place because of COVID-19.
Addressing broadband connectivity across the state remains an important issue for State leaders, however a bill that would provide $30 million for the GREAT grant program was passed unanimously in the House, but not taken up in the Senate before they broke for the Labor Day holiday. While $9 million was previously added for broadband expansion, the significant connectivity issues in rural regions of the state were made evident when school, work, and even healthcare went remote this Spring.