Sens. Tillis, Burr call on Gov. Cooper to end expanded federal unemployment benefits in NC

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WASHINGTON (WNCN) – Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to end North Carolina’s use of expanded federal unemployment benefits.

Burr and Tillis said the “exorbitant federal unemployment benefits” are a real threat to the state’s recovery from the pandemic.

“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,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The senators said telling employers to “pay more” won’t fix the problem.

“A person making $15 an hour earns $600 for a 40-hour work week; expanded federal UI pays up to $650 for a zero-hour work week. It’s no wonder so many have delayed returning to work as long as possible,” Tills and Burr said.

They called on Cooper to immediately end expanded federal unemployment insurance.

April’s seasonally adjusted state jobless rate of 5 percent marks a decline for a seventh consecutive month in North Carolina. That compares to the top pandemic rate of 13.5 percent last year.

Last week, Cooper announced an executive order that reinstates work search requirements for state unemployment benefits, which were put on hold during the pandemic.

He also called on the Division of Employment Security to work with the federal government on trying to establish an incentive program to encourage those receiving unemployment benefits to accept a job and return to work.

That move came a day after Republicans in the state Senate unveiled a proposal to do that, utilizing federal stimulus money.

That plan was updated Wednesday so that if the bill ever becomes law, people would receive a $1,500 bonus if they accept a job within 30 days of the law being enacted. The bonus drops to $800 for the next 30 days.

Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), who has advocated for offering the incentives, said based on conversations he’s had since announcing that proposal it’s unclear if it would be allowed to use money from the most recent federal stimulus to pay the incentives.

“We might not have the flexibility that we need. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to leave no room for doubt,” he said.

He said he’s talked with members of the state’s Congressional delegation about the issue.

CBS 17 asked if he would support using state funding to pay the incentive if it’s not possible to use the federal funding.

He said, “Well, I think we need to explore this option thoroughly first, then drop back and look at our options at that point.”

The Division of Employment Security says there are about 245,000 people currently receiving weekly unemployment benefits in North Carolina.

Liz Labunski lost her job just as the pandemic began last year and has been looking for a new job ever since then.

“To date, I have applied for 511 jobs,” she said. “My credit score has suffered terribly. I considered filing for bankruptcy but couldn’t even afford to do that.”

On Wednesday, she received some good news when she was finally offered a position in her career field of graphic design. She plans to start the new job in mid-June but noted it pays about half of what she was making before being laid off last year.

“I think there’s been a lot of competition for these jobs as well, so it is what it is. But, this is a job that I really wanted, so I’m really excited about this,” she said.

She thinks the incentive program state leaders are considering is a good idea.

“People are wise actually to start, myself included, to really ramp up and not wait until everyone’s unemployment runs out in September. Then, once again you have this giant competition for all of those same jobs,” she said.

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