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New filing period sends initial unemployment claims soaring to six-month high in N.C.
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New filing period sends initial unemployment claims soaring to six-month high in N.C.

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North Carolina reached a six-month high in initial state and federal unemployment benefits over the weekend, mostly because Sunday represented a new quarterly reporting period for some claims.

There were 9,985 claims listed for Sunday by the N.C. Division of Employment Security, along with 3,359 on Monday.

DES said the increase “was due to filing requirements at the beginning of a new calendar quarter.”

Some federal programs require applicants to file additional extended state claims to qualify.

“There is a federal requirement that agencies check claimants’ eligibility for state benefits at the start of each quarter/new base period for benefit eligibility,” DES spokesperson Kerry McComber said.

“If a person who is currently receiving federal benefits (PUA or PEUC) becomes eligible for state benefits, they may be moved to state benefits.

“This process has occurred at the start of each new quarter — it’s just more noticeable now that there are fewer incoming claims than there were earlier in the pandemic.”

The last time daily UI claims was higher was 9,988 on Jan. 5.

Altogether, there were 20,802 claims filed over the past seven days, compared with 9,993 over the previous seven-day period.

North Carolina is at 3.74 million state and federal unemployment claims for the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been 1.52 million individual claims.

About 30% of the 4.99 million North Carolinians in the state’s workforce as of mid-May have filed a state or federal unemployment claim over the past 16 months.

The pandemic high for daily claims was 43,297 on Dec. 27. The temporary expiration of federal extended unemployment benefits in late December contributed to the record high.

By comparison, the daily low of 474 for the pandemic was set on June 19.

McComber has said DES “generally has lower claims and call volume on Saturdays. It’s the weekend, and the new benefit week begins on Sunday.”

As of Sunday, new UI claimants qualify for just 13 weeks of regular state benefits, down from 16 weeks from Jan. 1 through June 30.

The Republican legislative super-majority approved in 2013 a sliding scale for UI benefit weeks based on the unemployment rate.

It runs from 12 weeks — which the state had from July 2013 to January 2021 — up to a maximum of 20 weeks.

Before the UI law was passed, North Carolinians received a maximum of 26 weeks.

Benefit payments

North Carolina is at $12.47 billion in initial state and federal UI benefit payments for the pandemic.

Of that amount, regular state benefits are at $1.98 billion, while federal and state extended benefits are at $10.49 billion.

By far the biggest factor in UI benefit payments is the federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC) program at $6.83 billion. That represents about 55% of all UI benefit payments.

When the FPUC program’s weekly benefit was worth up to $600, unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians received just under $4.88 billion from late March 2020 through July 26.

Since the resumption, and with the benefit worth up to $300 a week, FPUC has paid about $1.95 billion in benefits to North Carolinians.

After regular state benefits, the other federal benefit programs providing more than $1 billion in payments has been the pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC) program at $1.54 billion, and the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program at $1.16 billion.

After $8.16 billion in overall state and federal unemployment benefits were paid from late March through Sept. 30, $4.28 billion has been paid since Oct. 1.

Expiring federal benefits

The two federal UI programs expire Sept. 6 unless extended by Congress, which analysts say is unlikely at this point of the pandemic and economic recovery.

On June 23, the General Assembly approved a Republican-sponsored bill compromise that requires North Carolina to withdraw early from the PEUC and MEUC programs.

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.

The state Senate voted 25-22 along party lines to approve the compromise. The state House voted 65-45 with three Democrats in support.

On Friday, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed — as expected — a Republican-sponsored return-to-work bill that would require North Carolina to withdraw early from two federal pandemic relief unemployment benefit programs.

The latest version of SB116 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.

Cooper said he vetoed Senate Bill 116 in part because the programs are set to last just eight more weeks, and in part because the state has “among the stingiest (state unemployment benefits) in the country.”

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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