North Carolina Democrats are part of a group calling for a reform of the state’s unemployment system in the wake of federal pandemic unemployment benefits ending.
Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, and advocates from the North Carolina State AFL-CIO and the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center urged the General Assembly on Monday to pass legislation to raise the amount and the duration of unemployment benefits in North Carolina.
“The loss of critical federal benefits puts thousands of North Carolina families in jeopardy,” Nickel said during a virtual news conference. “Workers deserve to know that they can rely on the system that they paid into when they’re in crisis. Right now, we’ve got over 200,000 North Carolina families who have federal unemployment benefits that just ended.”
The federal program ended Sept. 6. Nickel said it takes away $1,200 from North Carolinians to pay for food and rent each month amid the COVID-19 pandemic. State Republicans pushed for the federal program to end early because it has led to staffing shortages throughout the state, they said. They filed legislation to stop the additional $300 a week in benefits. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure.
Cooper has pushed for an expansion of the state’s unemployment benefits program, which Democrats said is one of the country’s worst.
Republican leaders, including State Treasurer Dale Folwell, said the additional unemployment benefits created an “unemployment crisis” in the state.
“I get calls every day from small businesses saying they can’t get people to work because it’s more profitable for them to stay home,” Folwell said in a Sept. 2 news release. “They can’t compete against the federal government. And the workers that show up are paying taxes so the others can stay home.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor report provided by the Senate Minority Leader’s Office, North Carolina’s unemployment program was ranked last among other states, with 20 percent of unemployed workers receiving jobless benefits. The state ranked third to last for the amount and duration of benefits, the labor department report said.
Nickel and Sens. Paul Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth, and Mike Woodward, D-Durham, have filed Senate Bill 320, which would increase the state’s maximum benefit payment from $350 a week to $500 a week. It also would extend the duration of the program from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
Nickel also recommended giving part-time workers unemployment benefits and giving employers a “tax holiday” from unemployment insurance taxes for a year. The holiday could cost the state $300 million from its unemployment trust fund. The state currently has $2.7 billion in its trust fund, which comes from unemployment insurance premiums from employers and then paid out to jobless workers.
SB 320 was filed March 18 but has not been reviewed in the Senate.
By Nyamekye Daniel