As two key federal unemployment benefit programs are set to expire Sunday, newly unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians would have a maximum of 13 weeks of state benefits available.
State Treasurer Dale Folwell said Thursday he is fine with those limited unemployment insurance benefits, claiming as he has through most of the COVID-19 pandemic that the state is in “an employment crisis.”
Extended federal programs have included pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC) and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) that have paid a $300 weekly benefit.
Folwell, a Republican from Winston-Salem, requests that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper not use federal pandemic relief funds from the CARES Act to provide additional UI benefits.
Although the Biden administration is allowing the two federal UI programs to end, officials have suggested some states should consider using CARES Act funds allocated to state and local governments to continue paying the $300 federal benefit.
As of July 1, North Carolina provides a maximum weekly benefit of $350 and a recent average weekly benefit of $235.
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the PEUC program has provided $1.73 billion in benefits to North Carolinians, and the PUA program $1.22 billion.
On Thursday, U.S. Labor listed North Carolina with 122,628 PEUC recipients as of Aug. 14, as well as 1,726 new PUA participants as of Aug. 21 and 50,768 continuing claims as of Aug. 14.
Folwell has said he believes the federal payments have discouraged employees from returning to work.
“I’m asking the governor to follow through on his pledge not to extend unemployment benefits,” Folwell said.
“Whatever the source of funding, letting these extended benefits expire is the best thing we could do to help employers get reopened.”
“Businesses are struggling to find workers, forcing them to cut back on their hours and even having to close on some days,” Folwell said. “The policy is no longer about compassion, but the practical realities of the needs of businesses.”
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said “there is no indication that the General Assembly intends to appropriate additional funds for this purpose or to improve the state’s paltry unemployment benefits.”
“However, it is clear that states that cut these benefits early harmed their economies and lag behind North Carolina in job growth.
The facts are in and it’s been disappointing to see the treasurer work to slow job creation in our state and cut money out of our economy instead of addressing real barriers to the workforce.”
A total of 26 conservative-leaning states have ended their participation in the two programs since June.
Cooper vetoed on July 2 a Republican-sponsored compromise that requires DES to withdraw early from two federal programs. No veto override vote has been attempted.
The Senate Bill 116 compromise also makes permanent changes to work-search requirements that significantly stiffen eligibility criteria, such as a claimant must respond within 48 hours of an employer’s interview request.
On May 26, North Carolina’s two GOP senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — sent a joint statement to Cooper in which they said that “the employment shortage caused by exorbitant federal unemployment benefits is a real and serious threat to North Carolina’s recovery.”
Patrick McHugh, research manager with left-leaning N.C. Budget and Tax Center, said that socioeconomic sentiments are “likely part of why you hear so many businesses that pay the worst wages complaining about unemployment insurance the loudest.”
Democratic legislators and liberal advocates say the best potential solution to the perceived worker shortage is to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to a living wage of between $13 and $15 an hour.
“A false narrative is being pushed that North Carolinians are lazy and don’t want to work. That’s simply not true,” Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, said June 3.