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Gov. Cooper's Budget Plan Calls For Teacher Bonuses, Medicaid Expansion

Public school teachers would receive one-time $2,000 bonuses. Unemployed North Carolinians would see their maximum weekly benefits rise from $350 to $500. And, Medicaid coverage would be extended to an estimated 600,000  North Carolinians.

Those are some of the details included in North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's2020-21 budget proposal, released Wednesday, which also includes plans on how to spend the remaining $900 million of federal coronavirus relief funds.

Some of the proposals may not find favor among North Carolina Republicans, including Cooper's proposal to expand the state's Medicaid coverage. Cooper, a Democrat, previously pushed for a Medicaid expansion in 2019 through a prolonged battle over the state budget, but Republicans in the General Assembly wouldn't budge on the issue.

At a news conference Wednesday, Cooper argued it was now more critical then ever to expand Medicaid given the current pandemic and the number of people out of work. His office has said 90% of the expansion would be paid for by the federal government, with the rest paid by health care providers and insurance companies.

"Here it is right here," he said. "Here is the money to expand Medicaid and to get health insurance to 600,000 North Carolinians. Probably more now because many of them don't have jobs."

Roughly 2.3 million North Carolinians are currently enrolled in Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income adults, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Republicans have worried about the cost of expanding Medicaid. In an op-ed for The News and Observer of Raleigh, Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger wrote that while the federal government currently pays 90% of the annual cost of Medicaid expansion, he's worried the government could decide to pay less in the future and leave the state with a budget hole.

Teacher Bonuses, Other Investments

Cooper's budget proposal also calls for one-time bonuses for public school teachers and other staff members, as well as employees of the UNC system and North Carolina community colleges.

"I know many parents out there who've become homeschool teacher assistants out of necessity," Cooper said. "They value our teachers even more than before. We cannot keep leaving teachers behind, but expecting them to lead the way for our children."

The proposal would give bonuses to the following school personnel:

  • K-12 public school teachers, instructional support personnel, principals and assistant principals would receive a $2,000 bonus.
  • K-12 non-certified public school personnel would get a $1,000 bonus.
  • UNC system and state community college personnel would get a $1,500 bonus.

Cooper's spending plan would also dole out $132 million to the state's K-12 public schools to help them adjust to the pandemic. The money could be used for personal protective gear, meal transportation, instructional materials and tutoring for vulnerable students.

The budget proposal would also expand unemployment benefits. It would double the number of weeks that unemployed North Carolinians can initially file for benefits, from 12 to 24 weeks, and increase the maximum weekly benefit from $350 to $500.

Other significant investments would be made in local governments, food banks, and relief measures for small businesses and agriculture producers. A combined $52 million would be spent on a range of coronavirus testing, tracing, and research operations.

Attached to Cooper's spending plan was also a proposal for two government bonds. The first is a $988 million health care infrastructure bond that would support health facilities, public health labs, vaccine development and more. The other is a $4.3 billion bond that would invest $2 billion in school construction, $800 million in water and sewer infrastructure, and $500 million each for UNC System facilities, the community college system, and affordable housing.

Cooper asks that the $4.3 billion infrastructure bond be put to a vote on the November 2021 ballot.

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Copyright 2020 WFAE

WFAE's Nick de la Canal can be heard on public radio airwaves across the Charlotte region, bringing listeners the latest in local and regional news updates. He's been a part of the WFAE newsroom since 2013, when he began as an intern. His reporting helped the station earn an Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage following the Keith Scott shooting and protests in September 2016. More recently, he's been reporting on food, culture, transportation, immigration, and even the paranormal on the FAQ City podcast. He grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Myers Park High, and received his degree in journalism from Emerson College in Boston. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal