During a Wednesday press conference, Governor Cooper announced that educators and child care workers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning February 24. These workers are part of the larger group of essential workers categorized in Group 3 for vaccine prioritization, but because there are so many essential workers, Cooper explained that vaccines for Group 3 will need to be distributed in phases. Educators and child care workers will be the first subgroup of Group 3 to receive vaccines, while other essential workers will become eligible March 10.
On Wednesday Governor Cooper signed into law SB36, a $1.6 billion COVID-19 relief bill that includes support to help schools reopen, rental assistance, broadband expansions, and funding for vaccination programs. The bill also extends the deadline for parents to apply for $335 checks to help pay for the costs of their children’s remote learning. The funding for the bill primarily stems from federal funding allocated to North Carolina last year.
SB37, the bill that would require all North Carolina school districts to offer in-person learning options, is still being revised. After the bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and a revised version passed the House on Thursday, the Senate chose to delay a vote until Monday night so that a conference committee could negotiate changes over the weekend. Democrats have criticized the bill as unnecessary, given that most school districts already offer in-person options and the rest plan to do so soon. While Governor Cooper is encouraging school districts to reopen for in-person learning, he has not mandated it.
Economic and Housing Policy
Legislative economists predict that this year’s tax revenue for the North Carolina government will be similar to that of normal years, allaying fears that COVID-19 would cause a significant state budget shortfall. The economists cautioned, however, that lower-income households were economically hard hit by COVID-19 and have not recovered, with most of the tax revenue coming from middle- and upper-income households.
Health Care Policy
On Tuesday HB61 passed its first reading and was referred to the Appropriations Committee. The bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would greatly increase state funding to local health departments to fight communicable diseases, from $867,000 a year to $36 million. Local funding currently accounts for $19.8 million of local health departments’ budgets for communicable disease work, and this would be supplemented, rather than replaced, by the proposed funding.