RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly on Thursday finalized legislation distributing another portion of federal coronavirus relief aid, with most of the $6.4 billion heading to K-12 schools and universities as well as child care and emergency rental assistance programs.
The Senate unanimously agreed to accept bill changes made by the House, which overwhelmingly passed the measure earlier in the day. The measure containing these American Rescue Plan dollars was sent to Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to sign it into law.
Unlike an additional $5.7 billion coming to North Carolina from the same federal law that gives state lawmakers more discretion to spend, there was little leeway on how the money contained in Thursday's measure could be allocated. Congress already directed its use.
Cooper made recommendations on Wednesday to legislators about how the $5.7 billion should be spent. Those proposals include spending $1.2 billion to expand high-speed internet to more areas lacking affordable access, subsidize service costs and purchase computer equipment for households lacking it.
Separately Thursday, the House's budget-writing committee advanced a measure to spend $750 million in these discretionary funds in part to expand a relatively new state broadband installation matching funds program with internet providers and electric cooperatives. It also creates a new program giving counties the ability to put out bids for broadband expansion in underserved areas. State and local virus relief aid would pay for those projects.
Cooper said his plans are designed to raise the percentage of households with high-speed internet from 73% to 80% in 2025, reaching to 100% of families with children.
The bill sent to Cooper does adjust details of the state's previously created utility and rental aid program. The Cooper administration had complained about an earlier law that capped how much rental and utility aid could be awarded in each county, saying it would slow down getting money out to applicants. Now there is more flexibility in maximum assistance payments in all but the state’s 12 largest counties.