Calls grow from community leaders, educators asking elected state leaders to respond to COVID-19 impacts

RALEIGH (Feb. 23, 2021) — North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have finally dipped to pre-holiday levels; however, the harm of the public health and economic crises continues to impact families and communities across the state.

January Census data from the Household Pulse Survey show that hardship and job loss continue to be widespread and elevated.

  • 23 percent of adults living with children reported that the children weren’t eating enough because the household couldn’t afford enough food
  • 21 percent of adults in rental households were not caught up on rent
  • 35 percent of adults reported difficulty paying for usual household expenses

In recent weeks, the state’s unreserved cash balance — tax dollars on hand and available for the General Assembly to allocate at any time — has reached more than $5.5 billion, according to this week’s Cash Watch from the NC Office of the State Controller. These dollars are the result of years of low investments in North Carolina communities, surging corporate profits, and an upside-down tax code that continues to impose greater economic harm on those with low incomes.

Recently, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,967 likely voters representative of the age, gender, education, race, and voting history across North Carolina. Results show that 61 percent of those surveyed agree that state policies should prioritize investing in low-income communities and communities of color.

“These dollars can and should be used to address the immediate harms of COVID-19 and to invest in public infrastructure that will bolster our COVID-19 response and carry our state into a strong and equitable recovery,” said Suzy Khachaturyan, Public Policy Analyst at the NC Budget & Tax Center.

To date, the federal and state level of COVID-19 response has been inadequate to support a robust response to severe hardship. In part, the systemic underinvestment in our state has contributed to delays in response and shifted responsibilities to local governments, which are not able to address the needs on their own.  As local governments enter the budget season, the potential for revenue losses to impact service delivery and create challenges for communities across the state are real.

Advocates, educators, and North Carolinians committed to equitable, people-first policies are calling on elected leaders, including the Governor and General Assembly, to release unreserved funds and put them toward our communities. Investing the cash on hand to address immediate hardship and build public systems will lay the groundwork to ensure that all North Carolinians can thrive.  

Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy, North Carolina Housing Coalition:
“Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are struggling right now to figure out how they will pay for their housing and keep their utilities on. During a pandemic, housing is especially fundamental to keeping people healthy. The General Assembly is sitting on funds that can immediately go towards ensuring people can remain housed with access to water and electricity.”

Patricia Beier, Chief Executive Officer of WAGES in Goldsboro:
“COVID-19 has shone a glaring light on issues of poverty, economic mobility and stability. We are seeing people now qualify for services who previously would never have dreamt of doing so. Our communities are facing challenges relating to healthcare, education, child care, housing and food security. We are seeing learning and opportunity gaps in school age children, lack of available child care and food insecurity among children, families and seniors. In addition, we are seeing health care disparities and lack of access to care, particularly in communities of color who are already disproportionately impacted by COVID 19.”

Chanelle ‘C.C.’ Croxton, North Carolina Organizing Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance:
“State funds available now should be appropriated for needs like hazard pay to frontline workers, paid leave, rental assistance, unemployment benefits, and child care assistance to address the short term impacts of COVID-19, demonstrate long term investment in creating a more just economy, and right the wrongs of conservative fiscal policy that has disproportionally harmed Black people and people of color, women, and workers.”

Liana Humphrey, Chief Marketing Officer at the Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte:
“Now, more than ever, households in Mecklenburg County are making difficult choices between paying rent, buying groceries, or paying for their utilities. No one could have predicted the pandemic, but the state can and should do something to address the challenges these hardworking families are facing — poverty, housing instability, unemployment, and racial disparities — especially when there are surplus funds available.

Shakeyla M. Ingram, Fayetteville City Council Member, District 2:
“Cities across North Carolina are preparing for annual budget seasons and potentially having to make many more budget cuts than normal due to impacts of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. I will say understanding the state has $5 billion in unreserved funding for COVID relief and, most specifically, municipal funding is promising; however, if there’s no true plan to fund our cities I’m not sure how promising that is. I support The Justice Center and Local Progress campaign to help get cities the relief they need.”

Letha Muhammad, Director of the Education Justice Alliance:
“Due to the impact of COVID-19, we have seen school districts across our state grappling with the increased costs associated with educating during a pandemic. North Carolina has failed to meet its constitutional obligations to provide children with a sound basic education for at least the past 25 years. Our state lawmakers can begin to rectify this failure by immediately allocating funds from our state’s unreserved cash balance to our public school. This will help to ensure we don’t continue to disproportionately harm students who have historically been denied equal opportunities within North Carolina’s public schools due to inadequate funding.”

Gayle Schwartzberg, Statewide Campaign Manager, Down Home North Carolina:
“There’s money sitting in the bank that can be used right now to give our communities what we need: healthcare, housing, and fair wages. The NCGA has no excuse for allowing people to suffer when there are the means to help. We paid our taxes to create those reserves and we need them released now.”

The nonpartisan Budget & Tax Center is a project of the NC Justice Center, which works to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT Suzy Khachaturyan, Budget & Tax Center Public Policy Analyst, at; Alexandra F. Sirota, Budget & Tax Center Director, at 919-861-1468 or; or Mel Umbarger, Budget & Tax Center Senior Communications Specialist, at