State Democrats renew push to expand North Carolina’s unemployment insurance

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Now that the federal unemployment benefits have ended, Democrats in North Carolina are renewing their call for changes to the state’s benefits system, saying it doesn’t do enough to ensure people can get by when they lose their jobs.

Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) called North Carolina’s benefits “basically the worst in the country” and is calling for an increase in how much money people can receive each week as well as the length of time they could receive those benefits.

“For many, this is a very rude awakening to see that their state unemployment benefits cover so little after the federal benefits have gone away,” he said.

In North Carolina, people can receive a maximum of $350 per week in state benefits for between 12-20 weeks. Under the American Rescue Plan, people who qualified received an additional $300 per week on top of what they received from the state. Those payments ended earlier this month.

Nickel has sponsored a bill that would raise the maximum state benefit to $500 per week and offer that for up to 26 weeks.

As many businesses reported challenges in hiring people, Republicans pushed earlier this to stop the federal benefits early. About half of states made that move. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed a bill that would have done that, saying it would have taken money out of the state’s economy and harmed families using that money to pay their bills.

Data from NCWorks showed more job openings in North Carolina than people applying for those positions. The agency’s labor market data showed, as of Monday, there were about 242,000 jobs listed compared to about 162,000 candidates. That reflects a nationwide issue, as the U.S. reported last week there was a record-high number of 10.9 million job openings in July.

“The ‘Help Wanted’ signs all over most downtowns show the problem with the economy right now is a labor shortage, not reduced unemployment benefits. It’s no surprise that Democrats are pushing this policy, though, since they’d like to see government checks go out to everybody all the time,” wrote Pat Ryan, spokesman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, in an email.

As CBS17 has previously reported, there are nearly 40,000 jobs in the hospitality industry alone that are unfilled. That does not account for new businesses opening or current businesses that may seek to expand.

“The fact that we’re nearly 40,000 workers down right now means that we likely need many more workers than that to fill the job vacancies that currently exist in the industry,” said Lynn Minges, CEO and President of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Nickel said child care and wages are key reasons that many people are not coming back into the workforce. He also said the state can afford to make the changes to its benefits system, as the unemployment insurance trust fund still has just over $2.7 billion in it.

Jenni Propst, who works behind the scenes at live events, was unemployed for most of the last 18 months. While she’s back working full-time now, she’s concerned about whether COVID-19 cases could lead to her being out of work again at some point.

She said without the additional federal unemployment benefits, it “would have been completely devastating” for her and many of her colleagues.

“I don’t know how we’ll survive without more help. The state of North Carolina has abysmal unemployment insurance,” Propst said. “It will put workers on the streets if we had to rely only on North Carolina unemployment again.”

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