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Free money for parents: NC sent COVID relief money back because not enough parents applied for it. Now you have a second chance.

A state auditors report obtained by our Defender's Team reveals North Carolina received $3.6 billion from the federal government for pandemic relief.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A state auditors report reveals North Carolina received $3.6 billion from the federal government for pandemic relief and sent more than $120 million of it back.

In the 21 page report, the state auditor breaks down how North Carolina spent its pandemic relief money.

Of the $3.6 billion dollars the state received, 94% of it was successfully distributed to relief programs, hospitals, schools, etc.

The remaining 6% was either sent back or is still sitting unused.

State leaders say a big reason so much money was unused and sent back was that not enough parents applied for a lesser-known free child credit, called the Extra Credit Grant. 

"It’s essentially free money that the North Carolina Department of Revenue is giving to families," explained Dietrich McMillan, managing attorney for pro bono nonprofit Legal Aid of NC.

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They’re trying to get the word out that parents in the Tarheel State can get $335 thanks to the Extra Credit Grant program. 

“This program was implemented, because of the pandemic, people were out of work," McMillan said. "And schools were out of session, which means that children had to stay home, parents could not go to work.”

The NC COVID-19 Recovery Act allocated more than $400 million for that program.

But the auditor's report shows when the original December application deadline passed, $62.6 million was still sitting around unclaimed, so it was sent back to the Department of Revenue.

“Does that speak to you as maybe they just allocated too much money to it? Or just you know, the struggle to get the word out about this additional program?” WCNC Defender Savannah Levins asked.

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“I think it's more of getting the word out," McMillan replied. "Because we have a lot of families that do qualify.”

Some good news: the state has now decided to extend the deadline to May 31, so parents with kids 16 or younger can still apply.

To qualify, you need to have lived in North Carolina for at least one year.

“I'm just glad that the department of revenue did extend the deadline to allow those that do qualify, participate and get the money that they deserve," McMillan said.

To learn more about the Extra Credit Grant and how to apply, click here.

If you're ready to apply, click here.

Checks will be mailed beginning in mid-to-late April to qualifying Extra Credit Grant recipients.

For eligibility details and FAQ, click here.