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N.C. agency unhappy with rule changes in new virus aid bill

RALEIGH (AP) — Language in a bill now on Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk allocating more COVID-19 relief funds from Congress in North Carolina would make it harder to get money out quickly for people struggling with rent and utilities, a state recovery official says.
The General Assembly passed legislation unanimously Thursday that distributes another $1.7 billion in federal assistance and makes changes to how previously allotted funds should be spent.
Provisions in the measure would cap how much of the $546 million in rental and utility aid authorized in a law last month could be spent in each of the 100 counties, news outlets reported. The limits take into account population and median income. The Emergency Rental Assistance program, being operated by the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, also would have to provide the actual rent or utility amount needed for each recipient, rather than payments based on median rent in an area.
The changes come as the state recovery office already has faced challenges distributing money received last year for similar needs.
“Inevitably, we’re going to have to slow down applicants from one county in order to make sure that another county is getting up to their number,” office Chief Operating Officer Laura Hogshead said. “It’s going to kill the program.”
Republicans who wrote the new rules said they’re designed to ensure equity in benefits. The provisions direct Hogshead’s office to report to the General Assembly in May and provide recommendations on how to reallocate funds by county.
“It’s about delivering these funds where the need is across the state, and yes, that’s going to require work,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican.
Cooper has until March 14 to decide whether to sign the bill or veto it, or it will become law without his signature. He signed a COVID-19 relief funding bill last month.
The Office of Recovery and Resiliency has run a precursor initiative to the new rent and utility program called HOPE, or Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions. Applications for aid quickly surpassed the initial $167 million provided. Hogshead said the HOPE payment process has improved, with $71.5 million paid out. Much of the rest is awaiting mandated paperwork from landlords, utilities or tenants.

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