End-of-year COVID relief package is a down payment on what’s needed

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While the $900 billion end-of-year COVID relief package is not as comprehensive as what is required to address the long-term harms of the health and economic crises, it provides substantial relief that our neighbors, communities, and state urgently need to get through these next few months.

All in all, this end-of-year COVID relief package is a down payment and a step in the right direction. What is also clear is that the new Congress and Biden-Harris administration will need to act swiftly in 2021 to provide the additional relief North Carolinians and our economy need.

New research shows that hardship in North Carolina is only increasing. According to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

  • 12 percent of adults have reported that their household had difficulty getting enough to eat
  • 21 percent of adult renters are behind on rent
  • 36 percent of adults are struggling with usual household expenses

The latest federal relief package will help alleviate some of the hardship by including much-needed rental assistance and extending the eviction moratorium until January 31; increasing SNAP benefits by 15 percent to help families afford enough to eat; extending unemployment benefits for North Carolinians who lost their jobs through no fault of their own; and providing one-time direct payments people can put towards their most urgent expenses, whether it’s utility bills, car payments, medical expenses, or whatever they find most necessary. The package also includes a ‘lookback’ provision that will ensure millions of low-income individuals and families will not lose some of their Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit refund — money they are likely counting on to pay bills and support their families — because their 2020 earnings were lower due to the pandemic.

At the same time, this package falls short in several areas. First, it fails to provide desperately needed aid to our state and local governments. Without additional support, North Carolina cities and counties will continue to make cuts to critical services and lay off essential public employees, all playing important roles in our day-to-day lives.

Second, despite the growing needs millions are facing, the relief provided is far too brief. It includes just a one-month extension of the eviction moratorium, only extends jobless benefits through mid-March, and increases SNAP benefits for just six months. And while the deal extends tax credits for businesses that provide paid leave, it fails to extend workers’ right to take that leave when they get sick, have to take care of a loved one, or balance work and caregiving needs when schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We must continue to urge our state and federal lawmakers that North Carolinians still need long-lasting relief to ensure families can keep food on their table, a roof over their head, and access to services they need to ensure their health and wellbeing.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst at the NC Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

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