The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Along now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline route, landowners are left in the lurch

Environmental destruction, property entanglements will take years to address

Behind a black wooden farm gate, near Wade in Cumberland County, used to lie a meadow. Serene, tree-lined, it was a spot of utopia where Donovan McLaurin had planned to build a small house for himself.

Instead, the land has been defaced. Hills of dirt two stories tall are splayed to reveal a rugged gash in the earth. This is part of 11 acres that Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, seized from McLaurin to build its ill-fated natural gas project.

McLaurin, who is 73, was among the holdouts. He never agreed to allow the utilities — Duke Energy and Dominion Energy — to cross his property. He wouldn’t accept their offer of $36,000 that was supposed to compensate him for land that has been in his family for five generations. When they doubled the price, he turned them down again.[Read more...]

2. Special report: The national crisis in unemployment insurance

Balky technology, expiring benefits worry workers, state leaders.

Congress is still squabbling over whether to extend a federal supplement of $600 a week to unemployment insurance and if so, by how much. Meanwhile, out-of-work Americans  worry whether they can survive on state benefits that often are a small part of their normal pay — pay that for many was inadequate in the first place.

Old technology has already forced millions to wait on badly needed unemployment checks. Now state officials who run unemployment systems are concerned about how to adjust to changes or delays, while keeping the money flowing through their overwhelmed infrastructure. [Read more…]

3. Unprecedented crisis demands strong medicine from the federal government

It’s been more than six months now since the novel coronavirus produced its first diagnosed infection in the United States and to say that the nation has botched its response to the crisis would be a massive understatement.

Rather than tackling the virus head-on by implementing a comprehensive national shutdown and marshaling a massive and immediate federal economic intervention capable of sustaining the nation while a huge share of the workforce stayed home, the U.S. dilly-dallied. [Read more…]

4. Reopening public schools: A look inside one district’s decision-making process

On July 16, the Onslow County Board of Education weighed one of the biggest decisions it had ever faced.

Should it bring nearly 27,000 students back to 39 school buildings for in-person instruction in the middle of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that’s killed more than 1,800 people in North Carolina? Or should it exercise an abundance of caution and offer students remote learning only?

“Going into that meeting, we had a couple of board members who were not sure what they wanted to do,” said Pam Thomas, chairwoman of the OCS school board. [Read more…]

5. UNC not releasing ‘worst case scenario’ budget proposals

A week after UNC System leaders required chancellors at the 17 campuses to submit plans for budget cuts of up to 50%, the system is still not publicly releasing those plans.

The system’s lawyers are still vetting the documents, according to Josh Ellis, associate vice president for media relations. The system hopes to  make them available in the near future, he said, but cannot give a timeline for their release.

It’s an answer that frustrates parents, students and faculty concerned about the future of the university system as students begin returning to campus next week, as well as open government advocates who say people should be given access to public documents as quickly as possible.

Policy Watch first reported UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey’s email directive to the chancellors earlier this month.[Read more…]

6. As COVID numbers show signs of stabilizing, North Carolina rolls out statewide curfew on alcohol sales

Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen offered a glimmer of good news on Tuesday:

Key metrics used to measure North Carolina’s trajectory of COVID-19 cases are showing signs of leveling.

“These early signs are a testament to hard work folks have been doing across the state. They show what is possible when we all work together,” said Cohen.

With the state performing an average of 29,000 tests a day, roughly eight percent of the cases have been positive over the last 14 days. Today there were 1,749 new cases of the virus.

The number of hospitalizations is up, but the state still has capacity.

And as for those masks that we’re growing accustomed to wearing? [Read more…]

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