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Governor outlines more COVID-19 relief efforts for North Carolinians

Families that depend on federal nutrition benefits will have a little more money to put food on the table this month, and furloughed workers who receive payments from their employers will now qualify for unemployment insurance.

These announcements came from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday and Tuesday, along with information about a budget proposal in the works with the N.C. General Assembly to increase funding for a variety of initiatives related to COVID-19 relief.

The governor said he will likely make announcements about the statewide stay-at-home order scheduled to expire next week and school closures set to last until May 15.

Additional EBT payments

Over the course of the next month, families who receive food and nutrition benefits via EBT cards will receive an additional $250 per child, processed in two installments, as part of the USDA’s new Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program. Additional benefits are possible if schools remain closed beyond May 15.

“As our schools closed, many families across the state worried about where their next meals would come from — and we knew we had to take action,” said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. “The P-EBT program will provide extra help buying groceries for the families of the more than 800,000 children who normally receive free and reduced lunch at school.”

North Carolina is one of the first four states to receive federal approval from the United States Department of Agriculture to provide P-EBT benefits, which are entirely federally funded.

Families will not need to apply for the P-EBT program. P-EBT eligible families already receiving Food and Nutrition Services benefits will receive an additional benefit on their existing EBT card. P-EBT eligible families not already enrolled in FNS will be mailed a new EBT card in the next few weeks.

Relief for furloughed workers

While many workers across the state have been laid off completely, others have been temporarily furloughed, with some employers paying out relief benefits to help employees get by while businesses remain closed. Up until this week, those furloughed workers were ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Under Executive Order 134, they will be eligible.

“Our state has sent almost $580 million to over 257,000 people who’ve filed unemployment claims since the start of this pandemic. The Employment Security Commission continues to make improvements in its filing process and call center but more work must be, and is being, done,” Cooper said Tuesday. “I’ve signed a new Executive Order today to help furloughed workers whose employers have paid them a severance or furlough payment. Before this order, these employees were ineligible for unemployment compensation. With this order, they now qualify.”

State relief package in the works

As the General Assembly prepares to come back into session next week, Cooper also shared information about a budget proposal to help address some of the effects of COVID-19.

“Our budget proposal has three broad areas of focus,” Cooper said. “First: immediate public health and safety like testing and tracing of the virus; two: schools and other core state government services; and three: small business and local government assistance. I will recommend funding for more PPE, cleaning supplies and more contact tracers who can track the spread of COVID-19; school nutrition to make sure children are still getting meals, support for local governments and underserved communities, assistance for public schools and more.”

While details of that proposal will be hammered out when legislators return to Raleigh, there is bipartisan support for providing additional funds to the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Rapid Recovery Program, which is offering low-interest loans for North Carolina business owners.