Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Edwards tacks Buncombe tourism aid onto statewide pandemic relief bill

A covid-19 relief bill the Legislature approved unanimously on Saturday contains a $5 million boost for tourism-related businesses in Buncombe County.

Against what he described as long odds and the initial resistance from legislative leaders, state Sen. Chuck Edwards successfully shoehorned the Buncombe County Jobs Recovery Act into the broad coronavirus relief bill that legislators drafted this week. The legislation passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by Gov. Roy Cooper. Edwards had filed a separate bill in the Senate for the Buncombe tourism relief and was able to add it to the must-pass bill that distributes $1.57 billion in covid relief money across the state.

The program establishes the Job Recovery Fund to make emergency grants available for Buncombe County tourism-related small businesses and non-profit organizations crippled 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.

Many people didn’t think Edwards would be able to pull this off this week since the session to develop a statewide COVID-19 response was short and focused solely on COVID-19 matters, his office said in a news release touting the jobs fund. Neither the Senate nor the House was considering local bills this week so that they could deal with the significant problems facing the state. Despite these and other parliamentary obstacles, in addition to the resistance by many legislators to make changes to occupancy tax laws, Edwards was successful. After initially being told “no” by key decision-makers in the Senate, 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 conference report hammered out by House and Senate leaders.

“Getting this action passed was an uphill climb due to the time needed to get it done,” Edwards said in the news release. “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.”
Edwards praised hotel and tourist industry leaders for their concerted, unselfish determination to help get area citizens back to work, assist struggling small businesses, and help rebuild the local economy. He credited 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,” Edwards said. “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."