Bill to end federal unemployment benefits moves to Cooper’s desk

As labor shortages continue to reach industries far and wide, the NC General Assembly has pushed through SB 116, which would end $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits in the state. It also would cut short the $100-a-week payment to self-employed workers. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplements North Carolina’s current benefits, which pay up to $350 a week for 16 weeks.

RELATED: NC Senate bill aims to end additional federal unemployment payments

The bill passed Wednesday, June 23, down Senate party lines; the House voted 66-45 in its favor, with New Hanover County Democrat Deb Butler voting against it. If signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina would join 26 states that already have ended federal benefits.

The supplement is set to expire nationwide in September, though many legislators argue it’s exacerbating putting people back to work in a timely fashion and getting the economy back on track post-Covid-19.

“With a severe labor shortage, now is no time to pay people extra money not to work,” Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson County) said in a news release. “The pandemic is largely behind us, and our state shouldn’t be stuck in mid-pandemic policies.”

Last month, Edwards pitched a $1,500 return-to-work bonus to be paid out to people on unemployment who accepted a job within 60 days of it becoming law. The bonus was a compromise to repealing federal benefits, but that proposal didn’t make the cut.

An additional $250 million boost to child-care subsidies has been added to SB 116 in order to help people with childcare, so they can get back to work. As well, individuals will be required to accept work that pays 120% the weekly benefit amount.

The bill also includes stricter work-search requirements, which could result in someone losing benefits if not followed. Under the bill’s guidelines, workers who attempt to look for a job and secure interviews must:

  • Respond to an interview request within 48 hours
  • Schedule an interview following a request within seven days, with later interviews permitted upon agreement with the potential employer
  • Appear for a scheduled interview
  • Attend any re-employment activity associated with the interview request if required by an employer

The work-search rules also allow employers to report violations to the North Carolina Division of Employment Security and “requires the division to audit, on its own or through a private third party, all reported violations to determine if an individual’s eligibility to receive benefits is impacted by the violation,” according to the bill.

Over 200,000 people are receiving additional federal payments in the state currently, as unemployment hovers at 4.8% — 1.2% higher than it was right before Covid-19 hit. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation has paid out $6.7 billion in the state since March 2020.

The News & Observer reported some Democrats are predicting Cooper will veto SB 116. Thursday, the governor’s office released the following statement:

“Unemployment continues to decline as more North Carolinians get vaccinated and back to work. This legislation falls far short on helping remove barriers like affordable child care, while hurting people who are looking for jobs and removing money from our economy which is being used for things like buying groceries and paying rent.”

Once the bill is formally delivered to him, Cooper has 10 days to sign off on or veto it, else it automatically becomes law.

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