New unemployment-insurance benefit claims in North Carolina climbed above the 10,000 mark for the first time in four days, the N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Tuesday.

There were 14,929 claims on Monday, two days after the 5,689 claims on Saturday represented the second lowest day-over-day count since mid-March.

DES reported there have been 1.02 million applicants for state and federal UI benefits, along with 1.46 million overall claims. Some individuals have been required to file a second claim — after being determined to be ineligible for initial state benefits — in order to qualify for federal benefits that often include extended state benefits.

With the drop in the state’s labor force over the month, currently 25.6% of the 3.99 million North Carolinians considered in the state’s workforce as of mid-April have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.

DES said 685,139 claimants have received state and/or federal benefits, or about 67.1% of the state’s UI benefit claimants.

Pyror Gibson, who took over May 27 as assistant secretary for DES, said Friday the department has determined in 93% of the 1.02 million state unemployment claims whether the claimant is eligible for benefits.

“The number of state unemployment claims filed more than three weeks ago that are pending resolution is steadily decreasing, and is currently less than 57,000,” Gibson said.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday he is encouraged with the recent progress that DES is making in handling UI claims.

“We have one of the most draconian unemployment laws in the country,” Cooper said.

“There still are thousands of people who are in the system, some of their claims are more complicated. (DES) is working through this process to make sure that every single person who qualifies for benefits gets them.”

After a GOP supermajority in the legislature changed the state’s unemployment law in May 2013, the maximum amount beneficiaries can receive in jobless benefits dropped from $530 to $350, and the maximum number of weeks they can collect from 26 to a sliding scale of 12 to 20.

House Bill 1061, introduced May 6 by state Rep. William Richardson, D-Cumberland, would remove the sliding scale and restore North Carolina’s maximum number of benefit weeks to 26. It also would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $425. The bill has been sent to the House Finance committee.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said May 4 he felt confident the Senate’s proposed increase in weekly UI payments to $400 would be considered. The increase was included in the Senate’s CARES Act relief package, but removed by the House from the final version.

Because state unemployment benefits are on a sliding scale, the number of weeks can rise up to 20 weeks when the state unemployment rate is 9% or higher. The state’s rate jumped from 4.3% in March to 12.2% in April.

However, the sliding scale is activated only twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1 — both based on the average rate for first three months of a six-month cycle. That means January through March for the July 1 trigger, and July, August and September for the Jan. 1 trigger.

DES reported Tuesday that $3.64 billion in state and federal UI benefits has been paid.

The overall unemployment-benefits payment breakdown is: $1.95 billion from the federal pandemic unemployment-compensation package; $886.7 million in state benefits; $783 million in the federal pandemic unemployment-assistance package; and $20.9 million in pandemic-emergency unemployment compensation.

With the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund at close to $3.85 billion before the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt, 23% of that money had been used as of Tuesday morning.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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