The devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is catastrophic. Gov. Cooper and his team have taken many necessary, if difficult, steps to slow the spread of the virus. And the roll out of vaccines gives us all hope for a return to some semblance of normality later this year. Still, many of our fellow North Carolinians are suffering right now.
North Carolina is sitting on over $4 billion in unreserved public funds. Now is the time to put that money to work for the people of North Carolina. We can afford it. In fact, we can’t afford not to.
Democrats and Republicans have worked together to pass initial COVID relief for the people of our state. Now, we must do more. Last week, Governor Cooper proposed an emergency relief package to invest in North Carolina’s recovery as we turn the corner on COVID. Passing this additional relief is not optional -- it is essential.
We will have legislative debates about how to provide assistance, but we must remain clear on who we intend to help:
People Who Get Sick & Their Health Care Workers: We must continue to provide adequate care for those who contract COVID, while also working to strengthen our overall health care system. Our health care workers have been working overtime to provide care during these challenging times. We must continue to keep them safe while supporting them to persevere through the next few months.
Small Businesses and Their Employees: Small businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic. It is critical to provide relief to these businesses, especially those who have been forced to close or scale down, to ensure they are able to keep their doors open. These businesses provide the jobs our friends and neighbors need, and they will help us rebuild our local economies.
People Unemployed and Looking for Work: Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians remain out of work through no fault of their own and are suffering under one of the least generous unemployment programs in the country. With more than $2 Billion in our Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (separate from the $4 Billion unappropriated funds mentioned above), we can afford to increase benefits and extend the number of weeks of assistance allowed.
Students & Educators: Virtual learning has taken a toll on our students, educators, and parents. We need a return to in-person education with full safety measures as quickly as possible. We must also ensure teachers are vaccinated as quickly as supplies are available. As we look to the next school year, we must also work to rebuild and reconnect by addressing the social, emotional, and educational needs of students and teachers after a year of virtual instruction.
People Hit With Hunger & Housing Needs: Our communities have come together to help each other in amazing ways. An emergency budget should give additional funding to food banks which continue to feed families in need. It should also provide housing assistance to those who are falling behind on rental payments.
These are truly unprecedented times, and they require a truly unprecedented response. It is my sincere hope that Democrats and Republicans can put aside differences to quickly provide the relief that the citizens of our State so desperately need. We simply cannot afford to do otherwise.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50, covering portions of Orange and Caswell Counties. He can be contacted at email@example.com.