As families struggled with extreme levels of hardship in 2020, Congress dragged out the debate over a COVID relief package for months. Just before Christmas, Congress finally passed a $900 billion COVID relief bill that was signed into law by the President on January 27th. The legislation will send modest stimulus checks to most families, and provides $22 billion in health-related funds to states, territories, and tribes to carry out vaccination programs and aid in the fight against COVID-19.
NC Child and partners around the country have been pushing for this relief package for months. Many of the priorities that we’ve asked for have been funded – at least in part. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of you who have been calling and emailing our members of Congress over the last six months. Public demand is the reason this bill became a reality. With your help, these are the priorities we’ve been advocating for:
Ask: Increase the federal percentage of Medicaid dollars provided to states (known as the FMAP) to help cover health care costs. Medicaid has been a powerful tool, directly and indirectly, in the fight against COVID. NC Child wrote an issue brief in 2020 about the huge financial impact of Medicaid in our state, particularly in rural communities.
Outcome: No FMAP increase.
Hunger & Nutrition
Ask: SNAP increases to make food more affordable for struggling families
- Increase of maximum benefit by 15%.
- Increase of minimum benefit to $30.
- SNAP – The bill included the 15% increase to the maximum benefit, but only for 6 months, and with no expanded eligibility for the program.
- EBT – Expansion of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to EBT-eligible children under age 6 (this program was previously restricted to school-aged children only).
Ask: $50 billion in support to the child care sector to prevent widespread business closures
Outcome: $10 billion in support. National experts estimate that this amount will be enough to support the child care sector for one more month of the pandemic.
Congress also allocated $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans which are available to businesses with fewer than 300 employees. Child care centers may also be able to take advantage of this program to help retain staff.
Financial Support Targeted to Struggling Families
Ask: Rental assistance and other housing affordability funding
- $25 billion in rental assistance, and an extension of the eviction moratorium until January 31, 2021. The rental assistance funding is critical, as suspending evictions does nothing to prevent an eviction crisis – it only delays it.
- Unemployment – $300/week in enhanced unemployment insurance benefits through March 14th, 2021.
- Stimulus Payments – $600 to each individual earning under $75,000 per year, plus $600 per child.
Support for Immigrant Families
Ask: Inclusion of undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers, and mixed-status families in stimulus payments
Outcome: Undocumented immigrants are still left out of stimulus checks if they do not have Social Security numbers. However, children and spouses who do have SSNs are now eligible for payments. This measure is retroactive for mixed-status families that didn’t receive payments for family members with SSNs in the last relief bill. Families will have to apply for retroactive payments. Full details on eligibility here.
What does this mean for North Carolina?
NC DHHS has already announced that families who receive Food and Nutrition Services will see a temporary increase in the amount of benefits they receive. Get more information on amounts and how to apply.
The federal relief bill does not include additional support for state and local governments. State budget writers had hoped for more flexibility from the federal government to use relief funds to plug state budget holes, since state revenues are all down due to the recession. The bill didn’t deliver on that front, but it does include $22 billion for health-related expenses of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments.
One final piece of good news: The legislation extends the deadline for states to expend CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021. The arbitrary 2020 deadline on CARES Act funding had meant that North Carolina – like most other states – was struggling to expend billions on quick turnaround for projects that take time to roll out well. That could include efforts such as small business loans, rural broadband infrastructure, and the “extra credit” grants for families set up by the legislature during their 2020 session.
Thank you for all the phone calls, emails, tweets, and other messages you sent to Congress to urge this relief package. We know it’s not enough to meet the dramatic level of need that families are facing right now – but it is significant and much-needed relief in a very difficult time.