by Andrew Dunn, Carolina Journal News Service

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s Department of Revenue did not do enough to get “Extra Credit” grants to low-income families eligible for them, a new audit finds.

The General Assembly created the grant program in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, using federal dollars to give families $335 to use for virtual schooling and child care.

Roughly $366 million was distributed to 1.1 million families who qualified automatically because they filed a tax return for 2019. Another $8.2 million was sent to 25,000 families who applied for the payment with the Department of Revenue.

But the audit from State Auditor Beth Wood found that the Cooper administration failed to take several steps that would have helped low-income families.

Instead, the department sent nearly $63 million remaining in the grant program back to the general fund.

Many of these families did not file a state tax return because they earned less than $10,000 if single or $20,000 if married and filing jointly.

The Cooper administration should have created a simple-to-use application in plain language for these families, the audit states. Instead, the application the Department of Revenue used tax terminology and jargon.

The state could also have done more to promote the program and have better methods for processing applications, according to the audit.

The General Assembly should consider requiring that state agencies use all available methods for granting automatic payments in the future, including using records from welfare benefits.

The General Assembly has since extended the deadline to apply for the Extra Credit grants. Applications are now due by May 31.

This audit was the latest in a string of reports outlining failures of the Cooper administration to effectively manage aid and grant programs.

North Carolina was determined to be a “slow spender” of disaster relief money sent to help the eastern part of the state recover from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. Two years after the storms, the state had not spent a single dollar, while South Carolina had rebuilt hundreds of homes.

The Cooper administration also failed to distribute unemployment benefits after shutting down wide swaths of the economy, leaving workers waiting for months to receive money. Another audit found that Cooper’s Department of Health and Human Services failed to adequately oversee Medicaid grants.

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