More than $350B in federal recovery cash starts rolling out to states, cities, counties

50% of NC adults are now vaccinated against COVID-19. A legislative spat showcases why getting more on board only gets harder from here.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced a significant milestone Thursday in ending the pandemic – more than 50% of adults (18 and older) in our state have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 43% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated against the virus.

While those numbers are impressive, legislators in the House Health Committee demonstrated this morning just how difficult it will be to reach herd immunity.

Rep.Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) urged the committee to advance House Bill 572, prohibiting a vaccine mandate by executive order, rule or agency.

Rep.Keith Kidwell

“The government cannot force one to take an injection of any type into their body. It’s all about freedom people,” said Kidwell.

Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) said the bill was ‘unworkable’ making it difficult for the Governor, the Secretary of Public Safety and the State Health Director to make a decision in an emergency situation when they must also seek the concurrence of the Council of State.

“The governor has no say in what I put in my body,nor do any agencies or government entities,” Kidwell asserted. “We’re talking about the same language that I’ve heard so many times from people on the other side of the aisle, being it’s my body, it’s my choice.”

Rep. Insko tried again to explain the difference during a pandemic.

Rep. Verla Insko

“I want to have control of my body. But there are instances where I am a danger to other people. I do not have a right to make somebody sick. I do not have a right to spread a deadly germ. Someone has to take care of the community.”

Kidwell balked at her reasoning.

“If the you’ve had the vaccine, why do I need it? If the vaccine doesn’t work, and you’re still afraid of getting the bug, why do I need the vaccine? Because it’s not going to protect me, if it’s not going to protect you,” Kidwell argued.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) voiced his own concerns.

“I’m trying to understand when the legislature is supposed to be involved. Is the emergency such as the pandemic an opportunity for the governor and for Sec. Cohen to rule by fiat?”

Rep. Gale Adcock (D-Wake) offered that the state does play a role in non-emergency times in mandating certain children’s vaccines.

“We’re under unusual times. We’re trying to do the best we can to make the right decisions quickly for our entire population, and I’ll leave it at that,” said Adcock.

Rep. Insko said it was wrong to think the governor would independently make a decision about mandating a vaccine.

“The governor would not be making that decision alone. But India is an example. We don’t want to have the kind of things here that are going on in India.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth, who co-chairs the health committee, said he appreciated the debate, but it should be a matter of choice.

Rep. Donny Lambeth

“I made the decision with my family to get the vaccination. I would make that decision again. That was a personal decsion,” Lambeth said. “I encourage you to support this [bill], give individuals the freedom to make that choice, but I also encourage you to think very hard about getting the vaccination.”

House Bill 572 passed on a voice vote, and advances to the Rules Committee.

Kidwell is also sponsoring a separate bill [House Bill 580] that would make it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire a prospective employee if the employee refused to get a vaccine or provide proof of vaccination.

For his part, Governor Roy Cooper toured a vaccine clinic in New Hanover County Thursday, focusing on education to combat vaccine hesitancy.

“The more we encourage our loved ones to get their vaccine, the sooner we can safely do all the things we want to do,” said Cooper.

North Carolina has set a goal of getting get two-thirds of adults vaccinated with at least one shot in order to lift the indoor mask mandate and ease other public health recommendations.

COVID-19 has claimed 12,738 lives in North Carolina since the beginning of the pandemic.

States with higher vaccine demand will be able to request more from the feds

For an effective and equitable recovery, NC must direct dollars to hardest hit local governments

The last downturn in North Carolina — the Great Recession — resulted in a slow and geographically concentrated recovery that never fully reached all counties by the time COVID-19 hit. At the conclusion of 2019 and the pandemic’s subsequent onset, 42 of the state’s 100 counties still had fewer jobs than before the Great Recession.

If current recovery efforts do not help communities replace lost jobs and income, stabilize housing, and improve the health and well-being of families, North Carolina will reinforce persistent inequities. Those inequities will make it increasingly difficult for our state to promote economic mobility for children and families, support business entrepreneurship, and reduce the concentration of disparate outcomes.

Intentional public policy choices at the state level will be imperative in ensuring that North Carolina recovers equitably. The aid that local governments receive from the American Rescue Plan also will be a critical tool for communities to deploy those resources that are proven to support economic well-being.

COVID-19 has impacted local governments specifically in a range of ways. Communities across the state are being challenged by the reduction in local revenues (primarily occupancy and prepared meals tax), the loss of fees, and moratoria on utility payments alongside the rising need to ramp up vaccination drives, remote school services, and supports to businesses.

The American Rescue Plan represents the first time in the COVID-19 federal relief packages that all local governments and tribes are guaranteed to get monetary assistance. Of the $350 billion disbursed by the federal government, $220 billion (63 percent) will go to state governments while the remaining $130 billion (37 percent) is reserved for metro cities, other municipalities, and county governments. Although there is an allocation for smaller governments (i.e., cities, towns, counties), states may pass on additional dollars to these communities depending on how each state government chooses to invest its respective aid monies.

For context, North Carolina is receiving roughly $8.7 billion (excluding capital projects). Of that amount, $5.3 billion is for state aid and $3.4 billion is for local aid spread across our cities, towns, and counties. A detailed breakdown of local and state ARP aid can be found here.

As local governments begin to consider where to make much-needed investments, communities hit the hardest and too often excluded should be engaged to ensure that dollars go to the greatest need. As found in a recent analysis by Resourceful Communities, BIPOC organizations were least likely to access support even though they represent trusted stakeholders in various communities and can connect underserved people with services and programming.

When deciding how to allocate aid monies, well-resourced stakeholders may seem to be making a larger impact because they are serving a larger number of constituents, have a more established network of partnerships locally and statewide, and have the means to institute an extensive data collection process — but it is important to recognize capacity limitations. In many instances, BIPOC organizations are overworked and lack the capacity needed to illustrate larger impacts, but they are indeed reaching community members in need of the most assistance and often are the only entities doing so. Local officials must take this into consideration.

It is clear that as communities move ahead, as, for instance, New Hanover County has already done with an initial framework, they must establish a process for residents’ input and make a commitment to ensuring that resources go to groups that were left out of previous aid. Helping those still on the front lines of harm can create more resilient communities in the long run.

Decision makers must also recognize that the American Rescue Plan is not the final solution. Even with local governments receiving aid, most aid is highly concentrated in densely populated and well-resourced areas (e.g., Raleigh and Charlotte) as opposed to the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. The fight is far from over, and more is to be done in the coming months.

Parker Martin is a Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

No mask needed outdoors if you’re vaccinated, except among crowds, CDC says