In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, speaks on the NC Senate floor. Chaudhuri is one of several Democrats who sponsored COVID relief bills this week tailored to lower-income and middle-class North Carolina families.  (AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File) Sen. Jay Chaudhuri
In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, speaks on the NC Senate floor. Chaudhuri is one of several Democrats who sponsored COVID relief bills this week tailored to lower-income and middle-class North Carolina families. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File)

Legislation filed this week in Raleigh takes on COVID relief for pandemic job losses, broadband internet, and tax credits for working families.

While North Carolina Republicans are throwing their weight behind broad COVID relief grants for parents, the state’s Democrats have their own ideas about how to help families during the pandemic. 

Lawmakers in the minority party rolled out a series of “targeted” relief proposals Tuesday, emphasizing aid for middle- and low-income families, including a broadband assistance program, a relaunched earned income tax credit for working families, and cash for people who filed for unemployment in 2020. 

“I think that’s one area where Republicans have missed the boat,” state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, told reporters.

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The three bills filed by Democrats this week have little chance of passing in the Republican-controlled legislature, particularly with the General Assembly’s looming “crossover” deadline set to pass Thursday. Crossover means that after Thursday the legislature will only consider bills for the remainder of the session that have passed at least one chamber. It’s a self-imposed deadline the legislature uses to limit the amount of time they spend in session. 

Still, despite the long odds, Chaudhuri said Tuesday that Democrats are hoping their ideas are worked into budget deliberations this year. The minority party holds some bargaining power with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper leveraging veto powers over the budget.

Chaudhuri and his Democratic colleagues — Sen. Sarah Crawford of Franklin and Wake counties and Sen. Kirk Deviere of Cumberland County — said Tuesday that the pandemic has only exacerbated inequities in North Carolina for poorer families.

“While there is a light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, families who were already struggling to make ends meet are further behind as we recover,” said Crawford.

Here’s a quick rundown on the three bills:

Senate Bill 523 

  • With 14% of North Carolina households lacking access to broadband nternet, impacting education and employment, this bill establishes a broadband assistance program for low-income families in North Carolina.
  • The state program will coordinate with local health departments to determine eligibility for the program.
  • Eligible families could receive credits of at least $15 per month for broadband internet service.

Senate Bill 576

  • Re-establishes earned income tax credit in North Carolina, a tax benefit geared toward working families.
  • Progressive advocates say the program can be used to return tax funds to working people earning low wages. 
  • North Carolina Republicans ended the tax credit in 2014, part of a decade-long push to restructure the tax code that broadly benefited higher earners and corporations. 

Senate Bill 603

  • Deploys federal COVID relief dollars under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan for people who filed for unemployment benefits in 2020.
  • Awards $1,000 to low-income North Carolinians who filed for unemployment for at least three months in the 2020 tax year. 

Crawford, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 603, said the cash would be especially welcome to North Carolinians continuing to recover from the pandemic and its myriad impacts on the economy. According to state figures, 1.4 million North Carolinians, or about 7% of the state’s population, filed for unemployment benefits last year as the virus shuttered businesses. The state is gradually lifting restrictions with more vaccines being administered, but Democrats said Tuesday that many middle-class and low-income families will need help to recover.

“We have so many families struggling across the state of North Carolina,” Crawford said.