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League Bulletin

March 20, 2020

​WHAT HAPPENED: COVID-19 spread further and affected virtually everything we do, from city hall to main street to schools and to our homes. From the start, here, the League truly hopes this Bulletin finds you and your community in good health and positioning. But, to be real, we know it's a stressful time and you're working well outside normalcy. We're here to help. 
WHAT IT MEANS: Lots of questions. The complexity of the coronavirus response is indeed unprecedented, and the protective measures we've all been asked to practice, in some cases by law, are important but difficult. The League has been in steady contact with the governor's office, legislative leaders and federal partners on our shared goal of relief and clarity. If you have questions about how to legally or practically navigate these times from a municipal perspective, email us at We're publishing answers to frequently asked questions at, a robust resource site. 
ON TAP:  Insiders seem to agree that things may grow more difficult before they improve, but your leadership is holding us as steady and safe as the circumstances allow, and for that we're fortunate. 
THE SKINNY: It's a global pandemic, but it's a community-level call. We're here to help however we can. The situation is changing all the time and we're working to get you timely, but more importantly accurate, information. Bookmark​ for updates and read below about our communication with state leaders on pressing issues facing our cities and towns.

​Even before the first U.S. case of COVID-19, officials at all levels of government brimmed with questions -- what-ifs, how-tos, all in the scene of uncharted waters. The League has been in constant streams of communication with many different corners of government to capture accurate and thorough answers pertinent to municipal governance and how we can all work together. Visit​ for a wealth of resources and answers to frequently asked questions about the response to COVID-19, local implementation​ of the governor's executive orders, human resources and employment issues, childcare for essential local government workers, public meeting legalities, and more. We're updating this page as new information comes in, so please add it to your bookmarks and email with any new questions you might have. 
One of the more frequently aired sets of questions​ this week concerned Gov. Roy Cooper's Executive Order 118, limiting the operations of restaurants to delivery and take-out, as to minimize virus transmission risk within spaces. Businesses and local officials wondered how that applied to outdoor seating areas. The governor's office clarified the following: "Restaurants shall close all seating areas immediately and bars are directed to close immediately. Restaurants are restricted to carry-out, drive-through, and delivery to ensure food is available while maintaining social distancing. Restaurant staff are not permitted to serve patrons indoors or in the outdoor seating area, and all areas of North Carolina are subject to mass gathering restrictions and social distancing guidelines. If a restaurant has outdoor seating, onsite consumption in the outdoor seating area is not permitted pursuant to the Order of Abatement."
Plenty of other questions have answers in our FAQ section at​, and more are coming in. The site is also a resource page for local governments, with links to helpful documents and blog posts by League communications staff. One of the latest blog posts addresses the subject of community spread and what we might expect. The measures in place limiting congregations and business may be tough, the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged in the post, but they're working to slow infection and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. "We know this a challenging time. But it is important to remember that the vast majority of people who get COVID-19 will have mild illness and will recover at home," the agency stated. Explore the site​ for more info. ​

​League President William Pitt, on behalf of the NCLM Board of Directors, identified a series of pressing issues facing cities and towns amid the pandemic in letters Friday to Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. Pitt, a member of the Washington City Council, thanked them and their staffers for the work they're doing to help the state through the crisis before he discussed the financial pressures facing the lifeblood of local economies -- small businesses. "For employers with smaller workforces and smaller operating margins, particularly retailers, surviving weeks of reduced or non-existent income streams is simply not feasible," said Pitt. "These businesses will need help to survive." Just as state government depends on sales tax revenue generated by these businesses, local governments do as well, Pitt continued. "Cities and town​s receive $1.2 billion annually in sales tax revenue, with that revenue stream representing more than 25 percent of many of their budgets," he noted. "On the expense side, public safety makes up the largest portion of non-utility municipal operating budgets, and it is those personnel that we will be relying on heavily in the weeks ahead."
Meanwhile, water and sewer utilities -- many of which are already under financial hardship -- have pledged to avoid cutting off service to delinquent customers. They may face budget shortfalls, Pitt pointed out. "Meeting operational costs in this environment will be difficult, and customers need help," he told the state leaders. 
Local officials are also discussing their need for legal and regulatory flexibility with remote council meetings and utility operations. "Addressing these needs through statutory changes may be necessary to best serve citizens and ensure that we are doing all that we can to limit Covid-19 exposure," Pitt said. It all comes as local governments are working on their budgets for the new fiscal year, and are now doing so blind, "without having a true picture of their revenues and financial status." 
The crisis has further highlighted an issue the League has long pushed -- the need for better broadband access​ so individuals and communities aren't isolated. Allowing local governments to partner with private providers "is a critical step to ensure that businesses, workers and students will have the online access required." 
"We very much appreciate you considering these concerns," Pitt told the governor, Sen. Berger and Speaker Moore. "We are all in this together, and know that the only way to adequately address the tasks before us in the days and weeks ahead is to, as we say at NCLM, work as one and advance all."

The immediate and growing importance of broadband internet connections, lacking in many crucial areas of the state, came to focus in a documentary aired by WRAL on Thursday, called "Disconnected." WRAL produced the documentary in collaboration with the League, which has long pushed the issue of better broadband for the economic health and safety of North Carolinians. "The ability to do business, get an education and get quality health care are becoming increasingly dependent on access to a high-speed Internet connection or broadband," says an article accompanying the documentary on A trailer for "Disconnected" features a message from League Executive Director Paul Meyer.

While many urban areas have broadband service, that isn't the case for rural North Carolina, and the stakes are huge. Communities like Enfield are highlighted to explain why broadband is so crucial to communities working hard to grow and provide a good quality of life. "Without high-speed internet, some communities are unable to attract new business and even lose businesses that relocate to get broadband access," WRAL writes. "Some public school students who don’t have access at home rely on their parents to drive them to a library or a fast-food restaurant to access a Wi-Fi connection to do homework. Patients living in rural areas sometimes drive long distances to get to a medical facility when access to telemedicine through a broadband connection at home would serve their needs."
Please view and share​ this important documentary, which becomes even more timely given the distancing measures in place under the coronavirus pandemic.

​Following swift approval from Congress, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law a second emergency aid package prompted by the spreading coronavirus. The "Families First Coronavirus Response Act," HR 6201, appropriates funding for nutrition waivers, Family and Medical Leave Act expansion, unemployment benefits access, paid sick leave and tax credits for employers who provide the sick leave (excluding federal, state, and local governments). States and local governments that receive funding must report to the State Emergency Operations Center data regarding testing and results from health departments. 
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act of the bill requires employers to provide employees paid sick leave for the duration that they are not able to work, not able to telework due to a need for leave, being advised to self-quarantine, or if the employee is caring for a child where schools have been closed. The bill outlines the number of hours of paid sick leave to which employees are entitled. The legislation prohibits employers from discharging or disciplining any employee who takes leave in accordance with this act. Section 6001 mandates that group health and individual plans provide coverage for coronavirus testing at no cost and with no cost-sharing requirements. 
The National League of Cities explains that most employers will be fully reimbursed by the federal government through refundable tax credits, but Sections 7001(e)(4) and 7003(e)(4) of HR 6201 explicitly prohibit local governments from receiving the tax credits. Therefore, the cost of this additional leave will be fully borne by local governments. As Congress is working on a third relief bill, please ask your member of Congress to:
1. insert a provision that strikes Sections 7001(e)(4) and 7003(e)(4) from HR 6201; and 
2. have Congress clarify that state and local government employers, including those exempt from 26 USC 3111, fully qualify for both the section 7001 and 7003 credits.

Currently, more than 20 bills are in some form of existence at the federal level related to COVID-19. These bills involve housing, travel, small businesses, homeless populations, Medicaid, and much more. A bill in the U.S. Senate at the time of this writing​ eyes emergency economic aid that would include direct payments to some individuals and billions of dollars in loans to airlines and other industries significantly impacted by the virus. We will closely monitor these bills as the language is finalized and as they move through the congressional process.  We will also monitor any state legislative strategies.

2020 Census field operations are suspended for two weeks in caution over COVID-19, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said on Wednesday. In the meantime, the agency is strongly encouraging members of the public to go ahead and respond to their 2020 Census questionnaires, which can be done by mail, phone, or internet-connected device like a laptop or smartphone. The 2020 Census formally kicked off roughly a week ago with mailers sent to mailboxes across the U.S. "As of this morning," the bureau said Wednesday, "more than eleven million households have responded. America is stepping up to shape our future and ensure families and communities are counted." Visit​ for North Carolina-specific census info.