This blog post will be regularly updated to capture key policy responses to the COVID-19 virus. (Last updated 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 24)
Reports from Budget & Tax Center Staff
This post summarizes steps taken thus far at both the federal and state levels. Scroll down to see a list of steps taken so far, or click on the following links to bring you directly to a specific section:
- Addressing public health needs and the health care of people
- Ensuring access and adequacy of food assistance
- Providing continuity in the education and care of children
- Protecting workers from lost income and economic hardship
- Stabilizing housing
- Maintaining equal access to justice
- Operating elections, transparency in policymaking and other key functions of our democracy
- Advancing supports to stabilize economy
COVID-19 provides a sobering reminder of how much we need effective and well-resourced governance at the state and federal levels. Particularly in times of crisis, we need an infrastructure that delivers a coordinated, seamless response and reaches each and every person in the community.
The coming months will test federal and state leaders’ ability to blunt the impacts of this global pandemic and contain the harm to the health, well-being, and economic security of people.
Decades of tax cuts have left us vulnerable to a moment like this. Conservative leaders in Raleigh and Washington have given huge tax breaks to rich people and multinational corporations instead of building the systems we need to respond with a coordinated and collective set of programs.
Years of policies that attacked the very institutions that are so critical now have made the response more fragmented and challenged. Our public health agencies are under-resourced for the growing complexities and services needed in the face of this new coronavirus pandemic coming on top of a very bad flu season. Our public schools haven’t received adequate resources to provide classroom materials and technology in school, let alone outside of it, and many school personnel are worried about their ability to make ends meet in this time. Indeed, many workers will struggle to make ends meet if their hours are scaled back, they get sick, or they lose their jobs because our policy choices have failed to provide access to affordable health care, paid sick days, and a strengthened unemployment system.
COVID-19 is likely going to have an even broader economic impact going forward and could push the United States into a full-blown recession. Strengthening our programs that can automatically stabilize the economy by helping people make ends meet is critical, as will be aid for states to maintain balanced budgets without dramatic cuts to programs and services needed now.
In short, North Carolina will need a robust policy response at the state and federal level.
HEALTH: Addressing public health needs and the health care of people
- President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in order to direct private firms to produce COVID-19 related crucial goods.
- R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed by the President. This bill increases federal funding to states for Medicaid, which would mean $900 million for North Carolina to meet health care needs. Other provisions provide supports to workers and people across the country to contain the ripple effects of this public health crisis from exponentially increasing hunger and income loss.
- Federal state of emergency declared
- $50 billion in funding made available to support containment and mitigation efforts of states and territories.
- Broad authority given to Secretary of Health and Human Services to implement waivers of federal regulations and program requirements to support virus suppression efforts-medical licensure flexibility and telehealth response expansion.
- Public private partnership to make tests available, including drive-thru option.
- Waive student loan interest until further notice.
- Storing crude oil
- Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (L. 116-123) was the first, modest response to COVID-19 and provides funding for public health agencies, research into a vaccine and small business loans.
- North Carolina
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services begins implementation of a temporary Medicaid telehealth allowance.
- North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services submitted a waiver to secure flexibilities in the administration of Medicaid for the currently eligible population.
- State Health Plan board was provided emergency authority to waive fees and provide greater access to virtually to medical care among other authorities.
- State of emergency declared for North Carolina, triggering both anti-price gouging mechanisms and requests for federal funding to mitigate COVID-19 related harm.
FOOD: Ensuring access and adequacy of food assistance
- R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides additional flexibility for in-person requirements in school meals, WIC and removes time limits for the duration of the crisis as well as provides flexibility to meet the needs of those needing food assistance. This provision would be of importance in North Carolina, where state law currently applies the time limit and prohibits the state from seeking a waiver even in times of crisis or economic downturn.
- The DC District Court granted the States’ motion for a preliminary injunction and blocked portions of USDA’s SNAP ABAWD final rule (redefining waiver areas and limiting the ways that states can show lack of sufficient jobs) that were to take effect on April 1, 2020. The ruling means that current waiver criteria remain in place until a final decision about whether the rule must be withdrawn is made. Put another way, this is a temporary pause on the waiver rule until there’s more time for the court to hear arguments and render a final decision. For North Carolina, this decision will have minimal impact because state law prohibited the state from pursuing this waiver, but, for 700,000 people nationwide, this will make a real difference to their ability to put food on the table.
- North Carolina
- The Department of Public Instruction sought a waiver from USDA to ensure that school meals will be delivered or made available in non-congregate settings to communities during COVID-19-related school closures. As of Saturday, March 14, statewide schools will be closed beginning on March 16.
- School districts announce meal distribution plans.
EDUCATION: Providing continuity in the education and care of children and students
- North Carolina
- Governor Cooper extended his executive order closing all K-12 schools in the state until May 15th.
- The state is developing a plan to pay all public school employees.
- The Department of Public Instruction will seek an exception to federal K-12 testing and accountability requirements this year.
- NC Department of Health and Human Services issues COVID-19-related guidance for childcare facilities that wish to remain open.
- Local school districts are releasing their plans for meal delivery to students.
- Child care centers and homes have been granted flexibility on certain regulations by the Division of Child Development and Early Education even as the Families First Coronavirus Act leaves early childhood educators behind.
- Governor Cooper issued an executive order closing all K-12 schools in the state for at least two weeks beginning March 16.
- Governor Cooper requested that the US Small Business Administration provide additional loans to small businesses, which will help child care centers among other businesses in communities.
- Under a waiver obtained by NC DPI, school meals will be delivered or made available in non-congregate settings during COVID-19-related school closures. For dismissed schools with 50 percent or more of their enrolled students certified eligible for free or reduced price meals, SFAs may develop meal distribution methods in which meals are available to all families with children enrolled in that school, with a focus on serving low-income children. For dismissed schools with less than 50 percent free or reduced price enrollment, meal distribution methods must more directly target the households of enrolled children who are eligible for free or reduced price meals. More details here.
- School districts in the Triangle announced closure plans effective March 16. A full list of school closures can be found here.
- The UNC system is extending Spring Break is extending Spring Break and adopting remote learning options to support the CDC recommendation for social distancing.
- Several telecommunications companies have increased data caps, are waiving fees, and increasing speeds to support remote learning and work from home.
LOST INCOME: Protecting workers and small, local businesses from lost income and economic hardship
- Many proposals were introduced to send direct cash transfers to people, but not all proposals will benefit low income people equally.
- Two new proposals to address the economic harms of COVID-19 were introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 20, 2020. The Senate GOP proposal doesn’t effectively target people with low incomes and provides too little fiscal stimulus and support to states. As the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities notes: the proposal ignores the dire need to expand health coverage, help those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet, avert a rise in evictions and homelessness, and close the large state budget shortfalls that will soon emerge.
- In the area of unemployment insurance, the U.S. Labor Department gave states the authority to grant unemployment benefits to workers impacted by the COVID-19 virus. States would still need to change their own regulations, but this move would allow workers who cannot come to work, experience temporary work interruptions, need to self-isolate, or to care for a family member to receive Unemployment Insurance.
- Paid Sick Leave: R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act creates an emergency paid benefit leave program for workers who are diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, are in quarantine, or caring for another person diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. It passed the House with weakened paid sick leave provisions but is expected to be heard in the Senate the week of March 16.
- The Division of Child Development and Early Education of the NCDHHS announced that all NC licensed childcare centers will receive full subsidy payment for each child enrolled in their facility according to each child’s plan of care, and NC pre-K programs will be paid in full for the entire month of March, regardless of child attendance or closure.
- North Carolina
- On March 17th, Governor Cooper issued an Executive Order that eased restrictions on access to unemployment insurance including specifically the waiting week and work search requirements.
HOUSING: Stabilizing Housing
- North Carolina
- The North Carolina Utility Commission on March 19th ordered that “all jurisdictional electric, natural gas, and water and wastewater public utilities, including resellers, shall immediately cease customer disconnections due to non-payment of utility bills, except where necessary as a matter of safety or where requested by the customer, and waive the application of late fees incurred during the State of Emergency.”
- On March 15th Chief Justice Beasley issued a second order to court systems directing that they must postpone certain proceedings including evictions and foreclosures.
EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE
- North Carolina
- Officials begin reviewing jail population for early release and some counties have begun to release those people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses who are at higher risk of COVID-19.
- A second order from Chief Justice Beasley issued, Monday, March 16th further clarified and strengthened recommendations to court systems across the state.
- Most NC district court, superior court cases to be delayed 30 days.
- North Carolina
ECONOMY: Advancing supports to stabilize the economy
- Two new proposals to address the economic harms of COVID-19 were introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 20, 2020.
- Interest Rates: On March 3, the Federal Reserve cut the federal benchmark lending rate to 1-1.25 percent. This was the first emergency rate reduction coming outside of the Federal Reserve’s scheduled policy meeting since October 2008 as the Great Recession was accelerating. On March 15, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to nearly zero and said it would buy nearly $700 billion in bonds, a practice known as “quantitative easing.”
- Financial System Liquidity: The Federal Reserve moved to pump $1.5 trillion into the financial system on March 13. Through short-term repurchases of Treasury bonds, which effectively act as loans to banks and brokers, the Federal Reserve was moving to address a lack of liquidity in the bond market.
- North Carolina
- The US Small Business Administration approved Governor Cooper’s request for a disaster declaration for small businesses which will increase access to low-cost loans.
- Governor Cooper’s State of Emergency Declaration activates North Carolina’s price gouging law, making it illegal for businesses to charge excessive prices during the emergency. Anyone who believes businesses are exploiting the crisis to charge exorbitant prices is encouraged to notify the State Attorney General’s office.
The Budget & Tax Center is a project of the NC Justice Center. If you know of a policy change that has been implemented or is being pursued to address COVID-19 in North Carolina please email Heba Atwa at [email protected]