Week of March 30, 2020
Keeping You Informed
Robert Hiett, Executive Director
252-234-5950
State Attorney General Provides Open Meeting Guidance

With open-meetings law, even in bad weather, North Carolina cities and towns know what they're doing. But given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 impact on operations head-to-toe, new questions are coming to mind. With that, State Attorney General Josh has produced  a new guidance document on what law allows  u nder these special circumstances. 

Here's an excerpt: 

Can local governments carry out their necessary meetings via electronic means during these exigent circumstances? 

Yes, because electronic meetings are allowed under N.C.G.S. §143.318.13, and the requirements of notice, access and minutes can be met through electronic means. Due to the unprecedented circumstances we are all faced with, and the fact that local governing bodies conducting meetings remotely is not expressly prohibited by statute, I conclude that local governments can carry out necessary meetings electronically and remain in compliance with Open Meetings Laws.
STAKEHOLDER ANNOUNCEMENT: USDA Rural Development Launches COVID-19 Resource Webpage

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2020 – USDA Rural Development has launched a COVID-19 resource page to keep our customers, partners, and stakeholders continuously updated on actions taken by the Agency to help rural residents, businesses, and communities impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Visit www.rd.usda.gov/coronavirus for information on Rural Development loan payment assistance, application deadline extensions, and more.
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2020
Phone: 919-814-2100

Governor Cooper Signs Executive Order to Prohibit Utility Disconnections
in the Wake of COVID-19 
 
Executive Order No. 124 can be read HERE
RALEIGH: Governor Roy Cooper today announced another step to help families by prohibiting utilities from disconnecting people who are unable to pay during this pandemic. Today’s Order applies to electric, gas, water and wastewater services for the next 60 days. 
The Order directs utilities to give residential customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills and prohibits them from collecting fees, penalties or interest for late payment.
Telecommunication companies that provide phone, cable and internet services are strongly urged to follow these same rules. 

“This action is particularly important since tomorrow is the first of the month, and I know that’s a date many families fear when they can’t make ends meet,” said Governor Cooper. “These protections will help families stay in their homes and keep vital services like electricity, water, and communications going as we Stay at Home.”

Additionally, the Order encourages banks not to charge customers for overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties. Landlords are strongly encouraged in the Order to follow the spirit of Chief Justice Cheri Beasley’s Order and delay any evictions that are already entered in the court system. 

Governor Cooper was joined by Attorney General Josh Stein to announce the order and he thanked companies that have already voluntarily announced policies to prevent shutoffs, including Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, AT&T, and local electric co-ops, among many others. Today’s Order follows the Governor’s Stay At Home order, which is in effect until April 29.
The Council of State concurred with the Order today. 

Read the full Order here.

Read an FAQ about the Order here .

The NC Department of Revenue also announced expanded tax relief measures today, waiving penalties for late filing or payments of multiple state tax categories. Learn more about this tax relief here .

Make sure the information you are getting about COVID-19 is coming directly from reliable sources like the CDC and NCDHHS. For more information, please visit the CDC’s website at   www.cdc.gov/coronavirus an d NCDHHS’ website at  www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus which incl udes daily updates on positive COVID-19 test results in North Carolina.
 
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COVID-19 Internet Service Offerings

In  response to COVID-19 , more commonly known as the coronavirus, many North Carolina residents are being asked to work and learn remotely. To help ensure they can access high-speed internet, here is a list of new and existing free or affordable service offerings from vendors across the state.

Use this map to determine coverage in your area.


North Carolina households lag in online responses to 2020 Census

On Friday, March 20 the U.S. Census Bureau began publishing self-response rates for the 2020 Census. The rates represent the number of households that have filled out their census forms on their own (online, by mail, or by phone) as a percentage of all housing units, since the Bureau started sending out invitations to households in early March to participate in the Census.


North Carolina is currently among the bottom fifteen states in the nation for Census response: As of March 30th, North Carolina is ranked 39 out of 50 states and DC. 30% of households in North Carolina have now responded to the Census, compared to 33% nationally.

North Carolina households continue to lag in online responses: 25% of North Carolina households responded online versus 29% of households nationally. This gap has increased from last week.

Four of the top five highest responding counties are in either the Triangle or Charlotte metro regions – Orange, Union, Wake, Chatham.

The lowest-response counties primarily located in Western North Carolina – This includes Graham, Jackson, Avery, and Swain counties. Household internet access tends to be lower in this region of the state.

There is a widening gap between NC's response rate and the national average. North Carolina lags the national response rate by 3.1 percentage points, a larger gap than last week (2.6 percentage points).

Census tracts with the largest minority population (50% or higher) are lagging behind the state average: Just 27% of households in these census tracts have responded to the Census -- three percentage points lower than the state average.

The largest disparity in response rates exists between households with low internet access and high access. 35% of households in tracts with the highest internet access have responded to the 2020 Census versus 27% of households in tracts with the lowest internet access.

Census tracts with the large immigrant populations (5.7% or higher foreign-born residents) had the highest response rates: Response rates were highest (31.1% average) in tracts where 5.7% to 9.8% of the population was foreign-born; census tracts with the highest concentration of foreign-born residents (9.8% or higher) had the second highest average self-response rates (30.8%).

Federal Unemployment Insurance Assistance Programs

The federal CARES Act provides for three temporary unemployment compensation programs due to COVID-19:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

The Division of Employment Security is awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor to implement these programs. Once we receive the final guidance, benefits should start being paid in about two weeks. Anyone who filed a claim due to COVID-19 before this legislation may still be eligible for these benefits. If any benefits are owed for a week previously claimed, payment will be made retroactively.

COVID-19 Tracking-Discretionary Grant Compliance Inquiries

EDPNC representatives have had multiple inquires surrounding the needs of companies that have open grants and how the potential reduction in workforce may inhibit their ability to be compliant as a result of Covid-19. If that is the case in your county or region, please complete the attached document and return to: 

Bill Slagle-State Director-Existing Industry Expansion Team
Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
Disposition of State Surplus Property

Governor Cooper has issued Executive Order 122 which eases regulations on the disposition of state surplus property to help schools and local governments access state surplus property to help bridge gaps during the response to COVID-19. 

The Order also provides for the transfer or donation of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other health care supplies that state government may have and not need; these transfers/donations will be made through the State's Health Care Coalitions or as directed by North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

State agencies and local governments (including public school systems) may contact the North Carolina State Surplus Property Office to identify what inventory is available for donation or transfer: https://ncadmin.nc.gov/citizens/state-surplus-property

An Interesting Scorecard for Social Distancing


Our state grade is a D - and then there are grades for each county
Teleworking Guidance: Best Practices, Sample Policies, and Cybersecurity

This resource page includes the materials designed to help local governemnts navigate teleworking, including sample policies, procedures, best practices, and cybersecurity. Additional items will be added regularly to assist our clients. If you have questions about the technical aspects of teleworking, feel free to contact Shannon Tufts ( tufts@sog.unc.edu ; 919.962.5438).


Public Records Reminder: Recognize that if you are communicating about public business over non-enterprise tools, then you are likely creating a public record and you (as the sender/receiver of the record) need to determine how you will keep the record according to the North Carolina Local Government Records Retention requirements.
Quick Guide to CDBG Eligible Activities to Support Infectious Disease Response

Grantees should coordinate with local health authorities before undertaking any activity to support state or local pandemic response. Grantees may use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for a range of eligible activities that prevent and respond to the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 
Information for Local Governments on Recycling and Worker Safety

Recycling is an Essential Service

In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 cases, Governor Cooper has issued a Stay at Home Order [ncdhhs.gov] for all North Carolinians beginning Monday, March 30 at 5:00 p.m. The Order classifies “solid waste and recycling collection and removal” as an essential service to remain in effect.

We encourage local governments and private businesses to continue collecting and processing recyclables in a way that protects the safety of workers and customers. Recyclables feed directly into the manufacturing supply chain and serve as critical feedstock for consumer goods that are in high demand right now such as cardboard boxes, toilet paper, and packaging for food, cleaning supplies and medical supplies.

Worker Safety

While essential services continue, operations must adapt to keep the safety of employees at the forefront and minimize the potential for exposure to COVID-19. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) Guidance to Help Recyclers Operate Safely [isri.org ] offers a Safety Checklist for recycling operations and specific guidance for Truck Operations. Additional resources are provided below.

Additional information sources about recycling operations and employee safety:


Stay Informed and Stay Safe

Information is changing rapidly, this update is current as of March 30, 2020
It’s important to rely on trusted sources of information about COVID-19. Keep up with the latest information on Coronavirus HERE.

Text COVIDNC  to  898211  to receive general information and updates about COVID-19 and North Carolina's response.

Dial 2-1-1 provides free, confidential information and is available 24 hours a day to help you find resources within your community. They can connect you with people and groups that can help with questions about access to food, shelter, health care, employment and child care.

Families who need food assistance for their children can text FOODNC to 877-877 to find free meal sites in their communities.

Make sure to prioritize your overall wellness and don’t hesitate to seek additional help.

Optum has a toll-free 24-hour Emotional Support Help Line at 866-342-6892 for people who may be experiencing anxiety or stress due to Coronavirus. 
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Federal Emergency Relief Program

Farms and businesses with fewer than 500 employees and that meet the Small Business Administration’s definition of ‘small business’ can apply for a federal emergency relief program starting April 3.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is part of the massive economic rescue package passed by Congress last week to address urgent needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Incorporated businesses, sole proprietors, single-member LLCs, self-employed individuals, and nonprofits are all eligible to apply for this relief. Congress set aside $349 billion for this program.

How does it work? Who is eligible? We mapped out all the details in our blog post, COVID-19 Relief Funds Available to Farmers Starting April 3 .
Marketing Downtown From 6 ft. Away

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our downtown districts are witnessing business closures. Foot traffic is at an all-time low with so many "stay-at-home" orders in place. Downtown merchants need marketing now more than ever. During this time of uncertainty for downtown staff, community leaders and merchants must think of innovative ways to reach the citizens of the community where they are. The use of technology will be extremely beneficial to your small businesses. Creating a marketing plan for the next 18 months will provide guidance during this pandemic and will support a transition back to our normal routines.

EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic

If your water or wastewater system faces any challenges complying with rules and regulations, including routine visitations, inspections or staffing with appropriately certified operators, please contact your Regional Office or Central Offices of NCDEQ. If Rural Water can be of assistance, please contact us as well. 

03/26/2020

WASHINGTON (March 26, 2020)  - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is mindful of the health and safety of the public, as well as our staff, and those of Federal Agencies, State and Local Governments, Tribes, Regulated Entities, Contractors, and Non-governmental Organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency is taking these important considerations into account as we all continue our work to protect human health and the environment. Accordingly, EPA is announcing a temporary policy regarding EPA enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued regulations for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) today, which confirmed that employees must give notice to their employers of the need to take leave and provide documentation to support paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave. The IRS also provided guidance on needed documentation.  
Financial Resources

The Small Business Administration (US SBA) has authorized North Carolina as a designated state for access to  Economic Injury Disaster Loans   ( EIDL’s) for local small businesses. 


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has allocated $350 billion to help small businesses to keep workers employed.


To learn about the NC COVID-19 Rapid Recovery Loan Program for eligible businesses and more available resources from Golden LEAF,  click here .

*Please note current applications have exceeded the current funding level but affected businesses are still encouraged to apply, pending additional funding sources.
Join us Wednesday, April 8
4 - 5 pm EDT
 
The COVID-19 crisis has forced an unprecedented shift to remote working on a massive scale.
 
How can companies best mitigate the challenges and leverage opportunities within this new environment to effectively engage, enable and support their employees, while still delivering for customers?
 
Join our experts as they explore how business leaders can motivate their teams and meet the changing needs of a remote workforce.