Gov. Cooper resists calls from GOP Senators to end ‘excessive federal benefits’


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Thursday resisted calls by the state’s two Republican U.S. Senators to stop accepting federal funding for enhanced unemployment payments, as many businesses struggle to hire.

“I acknowledge the issues with the hospitality industry right now needing workers, but there are a lot of challenges people are facing,” Cooper told CBS17. “There are a lot of families out there struggling, and unemployment benefits also help the economy significantly.”

On Wednesday, Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr issued a joint statement noting the challenges businesses are having in filling positions.

“Employers, particularly in hard-hit industries like tourism, service, and hospitality, are finding they can’t compete with excessive federal benefits. Time is running out for industries that rely on the summer season for a large portion of their business,” they said.

People who qualify are currently receiving an additional $300 per week in addition to the amount they receive in state unemployment benefits. When added together, the maximum amount is $650.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Congress approved earlier this year, those payments are scheduled to continue until early September.

Nearly half of states have announced plans to stop the payments early.

Cooper said, “I do want to work with (businesses) to address the issue. Unemployment is coming down. I’ve issued an executive order reinstating the work-search (requirement). And we’re going to work together to make sure that the industry has the workers that they need.”

Republicans in the General Assembly have proposed using the federal money to pay people an incentive of up to $1,500 to accept and keep a job for at least 60 days. However, that plan has stalled amid uncertainty about whether it’s permissible to use the funding for that reason. They’ve called on Congress to act.

When asked if he would support using state funding to pay the bonuses instead, Cooper said, “You know, there are a lot of funds that are potentially available for this. So, we look forward to finding a way to do it and other ways to help the hospitality industry right now.”

Economist Mike Walden said it’s difficult to know to what extent the incentive plan would help, given the unusual situation the country is facing.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said “Logically, yes, that should motivate people to look for work.”

He said the enhanced unemployment benefits are one factor among many impacting whether people are looking for work. Ongoing concerns about COVID and getting affordable child care are also concerns.

“This is a short-run issue because the augmented unemployment benefits will stop in September,” Walden said. “As time moves on and more businesses are hiring, I think a lot of businesses are going to be motivated to do what they can and entice people to come in and look for work.”

Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) told a Senate committee Thursday it’s unclear how many people will ultimately pursue the back-to-work bonus if it’s ultimately put in place.

“This concept is a new idea for government. But, if you look around at what employers do in situations like this, they often add incentives,” he told CBS 17 Wednesday.

When CBS 17 contacted Democratic Rep. David Price’s office, he said:

“People want the stability of a job with living wages and with good benefits, but for some, temporary unemployment insurance is the only option. And here in North Carolina, we have one of the shortest unemployment benefit durations in the country. The American Rescue Plan built on previous federal relief to provide a desperately needed bridge to see our working families through to the other side of this pandemic. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from under them and deny them the unemployment insurance assistance they are counting on.”

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