A North Carolina family in 2019 in Charlotte's Romare Bearden Park. A new $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill promises financial aid for families. (Image via Shutterstock) NC COVID Relief for Families
A North Carolina family in 2019 in Charlotte's Romare Bearden Park. A new $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill promises financial aid for families. (Image via Shutterstock)

Monthly payments to parents? Federal lawmakers’ $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill promises changes for families, business owners and local schools.

Don’t worry, parents. I did the math for you. If the American Rescue Plan indeed passes this week as is, the monthly expanded child tax credit payment comes out to about 12 boxes of diapers a month. 

I have a feeling—and I speak from experience—this is how parents are measuring value these days.

The child tax credit, which could arrive in $300 monthly checks, is just one component of the massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill expected to pass in Congress early this week. On Saturday, President Joe Biden said the bill was intended to benefit Americans who have “suffered too much for much too long.”

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But here’s the thing: That suffering did not begin the day COVID-19 arrived, even if we have a tendency to only measure our pain when it impacts the affluent. 

The 43 million Americans and 1.4 million North Carolinians who lived in poverty in 2019—before COVID’s arrival—can attest to this painful fact.  

The coronavirus did not create poverty. It only made it somehow more unbearable. The COVID relief bill, by addressing child tax care credits, unemployment insurance, and state and local governments, seems to understand.

North Carolina ranked a lowly 40th in the country in overall poverty rate in 2020. And poverty impacts North Carolinians of color at a much higher rate. 

Which is why, even if the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has been sidelined or at least diverted, you will find a great deal of recovery funding that casts a wide net, wider even than the coronavirus.

Here’s a sampling of the most crucial elements of the relief plan, and what it means for us in North Carolina:

$1,400 Stimulus Payments

The sexy movie star of this massive production. The stimulus payments are popular. They’re fast (folks with their bank accounts on file with the IRS could see cash within days of the bill’s passage). And they’re far-reaching. Individuals could see up to $1,400 checks; couples could see up to $2,800, and there’s more cash involved if you have dependents in your home. Here’s how to get in line for your check.

Child Tax Care Credits

Parents are already desperate for this. One of the rudest awakenings for new parents who’ve forked over gobs of money for childbirth, education, and feeding their families is how little that seems to matter come tax time. Having children is expensive. North Carolina parents pay between $600-$800 a month on daycare bills. The relief bill would expand who is eligible for these tax credits. And it changes how it is allocated, possibly dispensing monthly $300 checks to parents as soon as this summer and not at tax time. This matters a great deal. As the progressive NC Justice Center reports, 1 in 5 North Carolinians under the age of 18 live in poverty. What does this mean for parents when they visit the grocery store? It means they might not have to choose between food and a badly needed pair of shoes for their child.

State and Local Governments, Schools

It’s hard to comprehend what $350 billion in state and local government funding and $130 billion for K-12 schools could mean. These are hard-to-grasp numbers to the average North Carolinian. But the folks who run our local government programs (particularly our seriously under resourced local public health departments) and our outgunned public schools know precisely what this means. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably seen and heard the calls from local schools for volunteers to donate masks and other supplies, particularly as districts move toward a return to some in-person learning. And you’ve probably wondered why in the world your local schools would have to ask for something like that? This is a piece of the COVID bill that understands this blunt reality.

Vaccine Distribution

North Carolina continues to speed its deployment of the coronavirus vaccine. New shipments from the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine should help. At least 1.6 million North Carolinians have already received their first shot. But the relief bill also includes $20 billion to assist states in rolling out the shots. President Biden has been bullish on the prospect of having most Americans vaccinated by the summer. This might be an overly optimistic appraisal. But it is the greatest tool in our arsenal for finally booting this virus. For more on the vaccine and how it has impacted everyday North Carolinians getting their shot, check out Cardinal & Pine’s bevy of vaccine videos here.

Restaurant Rescue

Small businesses are starving, especially those who rely on foot traffic and our bright, shining faces to walk in the door. The relief bill at least attempts to address the losses for American business owners, with about $50 billion in funding. And, as Time reported, this goes doubly for restaurant owners. The bill includes about $28 billion in grants for restaurants. WCNC in Charlotte reported last week on restaurant relief in North Carolina, and why so many restaurant owners in American feel neglected by the federal government COVID response.