Gov. Roy Cooper’s ideas for spending the $5.7 billion coming to the state from the latest federal recovery package range from offering another round of direct payments to parents to improving local water and sewer systems.
Cooper presented his proposals for widespread investments to – among other goals – help individuals and businesses, expand high-speed internet access, improve rural downtowns, and pay for scholarships for community college and university students.
“This pandemic brought us a once in a generation challenge, and these funds a once in a generation opportunity,” Cooper said. “Let’s use them to make transformational change for our state. We can revolutionize North Carolina.”
Cooper proposes using some of the money to continue a modified version of a program of direct grants to parents that legislative Republicans started last year.
The “extra credit grants” would go to low- and middle-income families based on their 2019 incomes, and would cost $250 million. Families would get $250 or $500, depending on their income, with people who make less money getting the bigger grant. The maximum eligible income would be set at $60,000.
Cooper said the pandemic levied the most harm to people with lower incomes. “We need to try to get the money to families who need it the most,” he said.
The state budget office estimated that 320,000 families would receive $500 and 340,000 families would get $250.
Cooper would use some of the money to continue efforts to expand high-speed internet by spending $1.2 billion on broadband access and affordability. High-speed internet became a necessity in the pandemic when students had to learn from home and medical offices pivoted to telehealth.
The spending will ensure “every home with a school-aged child will have access to high-speed internet,” Cooper said.
Other proposals include:
- $835 million for community college and university scholarships and grants. The NC Guarantee Scholarship would offer at least $6,000 to UNC and state community college students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year. The scholarships would phase out as family income increases to $75,000.
- $575 million for affordable housing.
- $175 million for rural downtown transformation grants.
- $350 million in grants to small hospitality and related businesses, including $50 million targeted to small business owners who closed or partially closed their businesses in the pandemic to help them reopen in the existing locations.
- $800 million to fix water and sewer systems. Aging pipes in North Carolina are driving up user bills, straining local utility budgets, and contributing to water pollution. $440 million would be use for water, sewer, and stormwater projects for distressed and at-risk water and wastewater units and $360 million would be available for all units statewide, according to the supporting budget document.