Push for UI Reform Grows as NC Workers' Challenges Linger
Monday, April 5, 2021
RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's estimated more than 280,000 North Carolinians remain unemployed from jobs lost during the pandemic, and many more have stopped looking for work.
Critics say the state's unemployment insurance system isn't designed to handle the demand.
Proposed legislation would raise the maximum amount of benefits from $300 to $500 per week, and extend the duration of benefits from 12 to 26 weeks, along with other changes that would make receiving benefits easier.
MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said the state lags far behind the rest of the nation on the amount and duration of financial assistance.
"And we are dead last, the worst in the country, in terms of the share of unemployed workers who received benefits," McMillan reported. "Before the COVID pandemic, less than 10% of unemployed workers received benefits."
Recent data show North Carolinians continue to file higher than normal unemployment claims each week.
Cheetie Kumar, owner of the Garland restaurant in Raleigh, said while it's a positive sign more North Carolinians are getting vaccinated, small businesses have a long way to go.
She explained her restaurant has been forced to furlough employees, and noted while she has been able to rehire some individuals, staffing levels are nowhere near full capacity.
"I want to be clear that this is like turning on a light switch and unlocking the front door," Kumar stated. "We're not going to be able to employ all of our folks again for a while. And when we do, a lot of them are only going to be able to get part-time hours."
Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Cary, the bill's sponsor, said with more than $2 billion dollars in its coffers, North Carolina's unemployment trust fund has the money to give jobless workers a lifeline.
"And that's why it's such a big issue on the federal level," Nickel pointed out. "Because all economists will agree, the one thing you can do to avoid a recession and help your economy when times are tough is to have good unemployment insurance benefits."
The economy has already lost more than nine million jobs, and with a projected shortfall of nearly 12 million jobs more than one year into the pandemic, many households may be forced to rely on unemployment benefits longer than anticipated, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
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