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Virus relief money to help many students attend community colleges for free

GUILFORD COUNTY — Some graduating high school seniors who experienced disruptions during the ongoing pandemic will be rewarded with a chance to attend a community college without going into debt.

The Longleaf Commitment grant program recently announced by Gov. Roy Cooper will allow graduating high school students to further their education for two more years at institutions like Guilford Technical Community College or any of the other 57 community colleges in the state.

Lisa Koretoff, GTCC director of financial aid, described it as an exciting opportunity for this year’s high school graduates and said she’s hopeful the grant program will be extended past the spring 2023 semester.

“These students now can essentially attend tuition- and fee-free with these funds,” Koretoff said.

GTCC provided $50 million in financial aid this year, but students often took out loans because not enough grants were available, Koretoff said.

“Now with the Longleaf Commitment, that changes the ballgame,” Koretoff said. “It’s going to make a lot of students who were not grant-eligible in the past now be able to have the ‘free money,’ the money that doesn’t have to be repaid, to go to college.”

High school students may be eligible to receive this grant for tuition and fees toward a degree or to attain transfer credit. Full-time eligible students can receive $700 to $2,800 per year, for a total of two years. Less than full-time students also may receive a partial award.

The funding is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief plan to address challenges students and educators have faced inside and outside the classroom over the course of the pandemic. High school seniors can apply for the grant for the 2021-22 school year through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They will have to reapply for the 2022-23 school year to keep getting it for the second year.

“The easy thing is that it’s going to be the same application they used to apply for everything else, and that’s the FAFSA,” Koretoff said. “They’ve outlined that it’s going to be an expanded range of eligibility, based on the estimated family contribution figure.”

Colleges use that family contribution figure, based on FAFSA applications, to determine what kinds of aid students qualify for.

Previously, if a student had a family contribution figure between zero and $8,500, the student would be eligible for federal and state grant funding for college, Koretoff said. The new grant program raises that figure to $15,000, making more students eligible.

Koretoff noted more financial aid assistance is available for GTCC students than ever due to the pandemic. The first Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds were authorized as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March 2020.

“We helped students with emergency costs they were incurring for having to convert from being in-person students to being at a distance,” Koretoff said. “We knew a lot of those students lost their jobs or had their hours reduced and were really in a bind.”

HEERF grants can be used for a range of student needs including living expenses, child care and health care. Students taking classes can apply for grants by submitting the FAFSA and completing a short online application saying he or she was affected by the campus disruption due to the pandemic. Awards range from $125 to $1,000, based on a student’s enrollment and estimated family contribution. New GTCC students will also be eligible for HEERF awards during the fall 2021 semester.

This past spring, GTCC was able to offer emergency relief funds to every student enrolled in a curriculum or continuing education program who took a certain number of courses, Koretoff said. When asked what she would tell a potential student who thinks he could not afford attending GTCC, Koretoff was quick to respond.

“I have been in financial aid for 34 years,” Koretoff said. “There has never been a better time to come back to school, in my opinion, with the amount of funds that are now available to students to help make it possible.”

cingram@hpenews.com | 336-888-3534 | @HPEcinde

Finally home: Rockers play at own park for first time in 19 months
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Will Ryan spoke for the legion of High Point Rockers fans streaming into the downtown ballpark Tuesday night for a home baseball game far too long deferred.

“I missed last year a whole lot,” said Ryan, sporting a Rockers cap as he awaited the return of minor league baseball cut out in 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ryan, who lives within walking distance of Truist Point stadium, said he enjoyed the games he went to in 2019 during the Rockers inaugural season.

“With missing last year, the energy level will be high,” Ryan told The High Point Enterprise. “We’ve all been hermits because of COVID.”

The 2021 home opener against the Lancaster Barnstormers was the first home game for the Rockers since an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball playoff contest on Sept. 27, 2019. That’s 624 days between home games.

The Rockers were expecting between 2,500 and 3,000 fans for their home opener, said ballclub media relations consultant Steve Shutt. Truist Point has approximately 4,000 seats.

As a sign of the pent-up demand for baseball, fans showed up to purchase tickets two hours before first pitch whipped across home plate at 7:05 p.m. on a warm, sunny evening. A line of fans waited to get into the ballpark as the gates opened at 6 p.m., and the enticing aroma of hot dogs and burgers cooking filled the air inside and on the perimeter of Truist Point.

Nick and Christina Caprio of Trinity, with their 6-year-old son Landen, were first in line at one entrance. The couple said they enjoyed coming to High Point two years ago for games.

Christina Caprio said the Rockers have helped their son nourish a greater interest in baseball.

“When I picked him up from daycare this afternoon, he said he was going to watch the whole game,” she told The Enterprise.

Tuesday night marked another first — the opening of Blessing Park adjacent to Rockers stadium as a destination for families.

The park, built through a donation by Ronnie and Molly Millis Young, features a splash pad, picnic tables, an area for play activities and a climbing rock for children.

Blessing Park is a component of the initiative led by High Point University President Nido Qubein to raise tens of millions of dollars in private contributions for core city redevelopment.

During a game, a family can enjoy an outing in Blessing Park, then walk a short distance to their stadium seats. The park fronts Elm Street near the intersection with Gatewood Avenue.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for

Blessing Park was

held Tuesday night before the start of

the Rockers game.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

Plea deals coming in Oath Keepers case
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TRIAD — Federal prosecutors expect to offer plea deals in the next two months to at least some of the members of a self-styled militia facing charges in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Meanwhile, the number of members of the Oath Keepers who have been charged keeps growing. A new indictment unsealed on Sunday added four new defendants and revealed new details of the group’s electronic communications leading up to Jan. 6, including inflammatory remarks by the group’s founder warning of the chance of a “bloody, bloody civil war.”

During a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy said there have been “very preliminary” discussions with attorneys for most of the 16 people who now have been named in the updated indictment. One of the 16 is Laura Lee Steele, 52, of Thomasville, who was arrested in February.

The indictment has been updated three times since the first three Oath Keepers were charged. Steele was part of the first group added, and at that time the indictment was 21 pages long.

The latest indictment is 38 pages long and adds new charges or details to the allegations against most of those charged.

However, Steele’s role in the activities the document describes is small and has not changed since she was first charged. According to the indictment, she did not even join the Oath Keepers until shortly before Jan. 6.

The indictment says that members of the Oath Keepers organized to go to Washington with weapons and participated in the storming of the Capitol to try to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote that made Joe Biden president over former President Donald Trump.

New details in the indictment, reflecting in part electronic records recovered from defendants’ phones and other devices during the investigation, include comments made Nov. 9 in an online meeting by someone identified in the document only as “Person One.” Although that person has not been named in court filings, media reports have identified him as the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes.

During the Nov. 9 meeting, held on the GoToMeeting conference platform, Person One called on Trump “to do what needs to be done to save our country,” namely to invoke the Insurrection Act and “call us up as the militia.”

“Because if you don’t, guys, you’re going to be in a bloody, bloody civil war, and a bloody — you can call it an insurrection or you can call it a war or fight,” Person One said.

Person One openly hoped for a violent clash with left-wing counterprotesters in Washington.

“If the fight comes, let the fight come,” he said. “I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there. That will give President Trump what he needs, frankly. … If they throw bombs at us and shoot us, great, because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Rakoczy said evidence collected so far comes to about 1 terabyte — or 1,000 GB — of data, about two-thirds of which has come from devices seized in the investigation. The investigation is continuing, and more evidence is being collected, she said.

Council adopts budget by split vote

HIGH POINT — In a rare split vote, the City Council on Tuesday adopted a 2021-22 budget that will restore last year’s coronavirus pandemic-related funding cuts and provide new spending for expanded operations.

That means that, come the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, agencies that bore the brunt of the reductions, such as the High Point Museum, will see their staffing return to pre-pandemic levels, while new positions, including an assistant police chief and a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist, will be added to the city payroll.

With total budgeted expenditures of $416.2 million, High Point’s annual spending plan is poised to increase — albeit by less than 1% — about $3.2 million.

This was one issue that led council members Wesley Hudson, Victor Jones and Britt Moore to vote against the budget.

“I feel like, some of these positions that are placed in this budget, the timing is wrong,” said Moore.

While key city revenue sources like sales and property tax collections weren’t hampered by the shutdown of the economy last year and have actually increased, Moore said that the fiscal impact from the pandemic is still uncertain.

The new budget also adds a $50,000 line item for the Southwest Renewal Foundation, contingent on future council approval of a contract governing how the money will be used.

Hudson said this goes against council’s long-standing policy of funding nonprofits in a separate process that awards funds “for projects to help all the citizens of High Point.”

“That has always been wise policy — to not play favorites,” he said.

The council will likely revisit the budget in the coming months, once the city has clear guidance on how it can use the $23.42 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding it expects to receive over the next two fiscal years.

Council members have debated several potential uses for the one-time funding, such as an initiative to expand broadband access, a new fair-housing program or joining a Guilford County minority and women-owned business enterprises study.

The new budget will hold the city’s property tax rate steady at 64.75 cents per $100 of assessed value, and water and sewer rates will not increase.

Residential electric rates will decrease 10%.

The only user fee that will increase is the annual motor vehicle fee — from $20 to $30 — to bring in more money for street resurfacing.

For city employees, 3% merit pay raises will return, and the city will eliminate its hiring freeze and vacancy savings measures imposed last year.

The total number of positions being added is 21, which includes one full-time and 10 part-time positions for the museum, which were cut last year.

The budget will also restore $337,438 in funding for outside agencies, $250,000 for Forward High Point and the $240,000 that was cut from the High Point Market Authority’s $1 million annual city appropriation.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com | 336-888-3531