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Senator Edwards Announces COVID-19 Recovery Act Includes Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Act

The COVID-19 Recovery Act appropriates $1.52 billion as Phase I of helping NC get back on its feet, and contains an important provision for Western North Carolina 

RALEIGH, N.C. – Senator Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), announced today that along with crucial funding to help North Carolina Recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, he was able to include language from a bill he filed earlier in the week, S705 - Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act, that will help jump-start the tourism industry in Buncombe County. 

This legislation has passed the NC Senate and House and is expected to be signed by the Governor. The provision Sen. Edwards included in S704 will provide financial assistance to tourism-related businesses facing unprecedented hardships created by the stay-at-home order, which stopped the tourist industry in its tracks.  

It establishes a $5 million Job Recovery Fund for emergency grants that will be available for Buncombe County tourism-related small businesses and non-profit organizations affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Eligible applicants can receive up to $50,000 directed toward the restart of their business once the recovery begins, and it is safe to operate or resume full operations, in turn providing jobs and allowing workers to return to the workforce. 

Sen. Edwards praised the hotel and tourist industry for their concerted, unselfish determination to help get area citizens back to work, assist struggling small businesses, and help rebuild the local economy. He credits the work and advice of Joe Belcher, Jim Muth, Gary Froeba, and Stephanie Brown for bringing forth an idea where occupancy tax dollars can be used for a broader purpose and where the entire community will benefit. 

“My job in the Senate is to listen to concerns and ideas of those in my district, then help them develop solutions to solve problems,” said Sen. Edwards.  “The folks back at home had the foresight, and they worked out the mechanics of how to make the program successful. My challenge was to figure out how to get the necessary laws changed in an abbreviated and challenging Legislative session,” Edwards went on to say.  

Many people didn’t think Sen. Edwards would be able to pull this off this week since the session to develop a statewide COVID-19 response was so short and was focused solely on COVID-19 matters. Neither the Senate nor the House was considering local bills this week so that they could deal with the significant problems facing our state. Despite these and other parliamentary obstacles, in addition to the resistance by many legislators to make changes to occupancy tax laws, Sen. Edwards was successful. After initially being told “no” by key decision-makers in the Senate, Sen. Edwards continued to work with legislators in both chambers, and on each side of the aisle to get his bill’s language inserted into the S704 conference report.  

A conference report refers to the compromise product negotiated by the conference committee composed of House and Senate conferees to reconcile differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. It is printed and submitted to each chamber for its consideration, such as approval or disapproval. 

Sen. Edwards points out the significance of getting this action passed through a conference report instead of the normal process for a local bill was the efficiency in time and steps saved. If his bill (S705) followed the normal course of legislation, it would have required nine committee meetings, read into the journal of each chamber, and voted on twice in each chamber.  

“Getting this action passed was an uphill climb due to the time needed to get it done,” said Sen. Edwards. “In a situation like this, a legislator must rely on the relationships they’ve built in the General Assembly, and the respect they’ve earned amongst their peers. This measure was never challenged on its merit, but the impossibility of getting it passed quickly. At the end of the day, all of us here in Raleigh know a good idea when we hear it, and we want to do our best for the citizens of our state.”