What Additional Unemployment Benefits For North Carolina Look Like
North Carolina is working with the federal government to send an additional $300 to some unemployed residents. It’s part of an executive order issued by the president after federal dollars ran out at the end of July — and that extra money could come as soon as next week.
As unemployed North Carolinians wait to see if Congress will create and approve another stimulus package, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved North Carolina’s request for an additional $300 a week to those who are eligible.
The money is part of the Lost Wages Assistance program. It will go to unemployed or partially unemployed residents who receive at least $100 a week in benefits.
“The people who in my view need the money the most — the people who were earning just a little bit in unemployment benefits, less than $100 a week — will not be eligible for these additional benefits,” said Chuck Monteith, an attorney at Monteith Law and former deputy chief counsel of North Carolina's Employment Security Commission. “I don't understand the rationale for that.”
According to Monteith, the minimum state weekly benefit amount is $15 per week in North Carolina. He says the extra money from COVID-19-related funds is part of an unemployment system that has been harder to navigate during this pandemic.
FEMA guidelines say payments can be retroactive to Aug. 1, and when they end depends on how much money is left in the federal fund.
The state had an option of kicking in an additional $100 but Gov. Roy Cooper skipped that option after learning he couldn’t dip into the state’s unemployment trust fund to cover that additional payment.
Charlotte resident Tony Ulchar said he struggled to get benefits back in the early days of the pandemic.
“Basically, I just felt like I was spinning my wheels,” Ulchar said. “At my point, I was so frustrated I was emailing, to be frank, I think I even emailed Gov. Cooper at one point to try and get things unstuck.”
Ulchar tried filing his claim over the phone and spent hours on hold. After five weeks, his claim was finally approved. Before the pandemic, he worked in an electronics store. He was let go in March and was hired back this summer.
He knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
“There have been so many things that change with COVID from a daily or weekly basis,” Ulchar said, adding that he fears the unemployment system might become overloaded again. “We don't really know what's going to happen tomorrow or next week or next month. Nobody really knows how long it is going to be, but that money is still vital for the people who have not been able to go back to work yet.”
Unemployment in the state continues to be an issue during this pandemic. Kenny Colbert, president of The Employers Association in Charlotte, says there’s a larger issue: North Carolina's unemployment system.
“I think that legislators in the state are going to be pressing to raise that payout,” Colbert said. “There's going to be a lot of talk about raising the maximum weekly payout as well as the average weekly payout.”
Colbert says the state legislature should increase the maximum amount of benefits and also change the whole formula so people who need assistance the most also benefit.
“If North Carolina truly wants to reform it, they need to look at all levels of it and change the actual formula on how to calculate unemployment payouts so that these people who are making say, you know, say $10 an hour, $12 an hour can receive a larger payout,”
Colbert says the additional $300 is coming at the last minute — after the $600 people were receiving expired.
“It's a little bit aggravating that Congress waited until the very end of the $600 a week stimulus to start debating what the new stimulus was going to be and no progress has been made,” he said. “Congress knew for several months that this was going to expire.”
North Carolina joins more than 30 states that have been approved for the federal assistance so far, and South Carolina’s governor filed an application with FEMA this week.
Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
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