Federal unemployment benefits sunset in North Carolina, unemployment falls to 4.4%

Federal unemployment benefits end in North Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 4. (Port City Daily/Johanna F. Still)

After 18 months of funneling more than $10 billion into North Carolina throughout the pandemic, additional federal unemployment benefits sunset in the Tar Heel State Saturday, Sept. 4.

The expiration of the programs include:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which adds $300 to statewide unemployment benefits for individuals laid off from Covid-19
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), paid to people who have exhausted their North Carolina benefits
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for self-employed workers
  • Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides a $100-a-week bump for those who are freelancers or gig workers and traditionally have low unemployment from W-2 wages

The federal funds have been hotly contested over the last few months, with many states voting to end the programs before the official expiration on Monday, Sept. 6 (the last payable week in North Carolina ends two days earlier, Sept. 4). At the beginning of summer, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 116 in attempt to end federal payments, though Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it.

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

READ MORE: Cooper vetoes bill to end federal unemployment payments

The Biden administration announced on Aug. 19 it would not stop the expiration of the federal program, which was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 to provide additional payments of $600 a week. It expired in fall 2020 and payments resumed by half in winter 2021, as extended by the American Rescue Plan Act.

According to a letter signed by secretary of the treasury, Janet L. Yellen, the Biden administration is encouraging all states still experiencing high unemployment rates to continue the supplemental funds by tapping into monies secured from the $350 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP).

North Carolina received over $5.7 billion from ARP; however, Cooper did not announce the use of this money to extend unemployment benefits during his spending proposal. Instead, he focused on “reconnecting the workforce” with expanded training measures, access to education and supporting work-based learning and mentorship programs, especially for underrepresented populations.

On Sept. 2 the governor said he was reinstating two unemployment benefit requirements: the waiting period in which individuals receive a first payment (a week) and resuming fees employers pay into the benefits program (read Executive Order 231).

A look at the numbers

According to the latest report from the North Carolina Department of Commerce of Employment Security (NCDCES), July numbers continue to improve in many areas across the state.

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen to 4.4% in July 2021 — below the 5.4% national average. The state’s statistic decreased by half from 8.8% a year ago.

Courtesy NC Department of Commerce; click to enlarge.

July 2021 data shows an increase of 8,361 employed individuals in a month and 278,125 over the year. Unemployment decreased by 9,579 people in a month and 210,978 over the year.

Some industries have experienced job growth, including:

  • Government — 53,800
  • Professional & Business Services — 10,700
  • Construction — 4,300
  • Leisure & Hospitality Services — 3,800
  • Manufacturing — 3,100
  • Financial Activities — 600
  • Other Services — 600

Others have faced a decrease in workers:

  • Education & Health Services — 900
  • Information —400

Currently, 222,315 are unemployed in the state of North Carolina. NCDCES pays up to $350 a week for 13 weeks. Claimants are paid on average for nine weeks of around $216 a week. Cooper has described North Carolina’s unemployment benefits as “paltry” — “some of the stingiest in the country.”

Forbes ranked the state’s benefits 49th in the nation. The outlet analyzes data by weighing how much is paid through unemployment and the duration in which it’s paid, as compared to the cost of living.

In a release, Cooper said: “I will continue to urge the legislature to improve the state’s benefits as we return to normal procedures.”

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