On Tuesday State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis asked the NC House Select Committee on COVID-19 to hold school districts “harmless” for 2020-2021 enrollment decreases. This would mean that school districts will be protected from funding cuts even if their enrollment drops due to the COVID-19 crisis. Current state law mandates adjusting funding downward if enrollment is 2% or 100 students lower than projected. Davis also requested allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funding for educational needs, including PPE for schools, transportation to support food distribution and internet hotspots, internet and broadband services for families, and mental health support for students and staff.
NC State announced Wednesday that students would be required to move out of campus housing unless they were granted an exception, reversing course from the plan they had announced the previous week. Chancellor Randy Woodson cited the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases among the student body -- N.C. State reported a 34% positive test rate this week -- as the primary reason for the change in plans. Other UNC System schools continue to face scrutiny and pressure about their fall plans, with UNC-Charlotte Public Health Sciences faculty advocating for a fully online semester and Appalachian State receiving criticism over a new COVID-19 dashboard that does not include promised changes. Finally, UNC System employees who had sued earlier this month over unsafe working conditions may settle out of court next week during a mediated settlement conference.
Economic and Housing Policy
On Tuesday Governor Cooper announced the allocation of $175 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help North Carolinians with rent and utility payments. The following day, he released a letter to both chambers of the NC legislature outlining his recommendations for the 2020-2021 State Budget and for the remaining federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. He once again called upon Republicans to expand Medicaid, increase unemployment benefits, pay teachers and other workers one time bonuses, and take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest in schools and infrastructure. Leaders in the General Assembly later said that they planned to add an additional $50 per week for unemployment benefits. Separately, the Governor indicated recipients of unemployment benefits should receive as soon as next week the first of three weeks of an additional $300 dollars in benefits allocated by the federal government for the first three weeks of August but not yet paid out due to issues with the state’s benefit administration.
On Monday the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality denied applications from Carolina Sunrock to build an asphalt and concrete plant in Anderson and a quarry in Prospect Hill. The department’s Division of Air Quality found that the proposed facilities would not comply with national air quality standards. A public hearing about the proposals was scheduled to take place September 10, but it is now canceled.
Health Care Policy
On Thursday a North Carolina Administrative Law judge dismissed a suit from three health care companies not selected as recipients of a NC DHHS Medicaid contract. The companies had claimed that conflicts of interest rendered DHHS’s decision to award a large portion of the contract to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina improper. Following Judge Tenisha Jacobs’ dismissal of the suit, the three suing companies appealed to Superior Court.
On Friday, Wake County Superior Court Judge Vinston Rozier Jr., the judge overseeing the case about measures to combat COVID-19 in North Carolina prisons, held a hearing to consider a request to appoint a “special master” to manage possible inmate releases. The plaintiffs, including the ACLU and NAACP, advocated for such an appointment, citing ways that the state has continued to fail to comply with Judge Rozier’s orders.