By GARY D. ROBERTSON
North Carolina would end offering supplemental benefits from the federal government to the state’s unemployed in roughly a month under legislation finalized Wednesday by Republicans in charge of the General Assembly.
But House and Senate Democrats voted almost unanimously against the compromise hammered out by GOP leaders from both chambers, signaling a possible veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The legislation would do away with the $300-a-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit for at least 200,000 displaced workers in the state. That’s on top of their other state or federal aid. A $100-a-week additional payment for self-employed workers also would end.
Both coronavirus aid programs already are set to expire nationwide in September, but Republicans have agreed with business owners’ concerns that the extra benefits are a disincentive for some to return to the workforce after being months at home. Twenty-six states, all but one with Republican governors, have already decided to withdraw early from the program, according to the National Employment Law Project.
By ending the $300 weekly supplement benefit, the final legislation sides with what the House approved earlier this month.
“With a severe labor shortage, now is no time to pay people extra money not to work,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, said in a news release. “The pandemic is largely behind us, and our state shouldn’t be stuck in mid-pandemic policies.”
Cooper’s office didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request late Wednesday for comment on the bill. But one Democrat, Rep. Wesley Harris of Mecklenburg County, said during floor debate that he anticipated Cooper would veto it. The bill would direct the state to stop administering payments within about 30 days of the measure becoming law.
Edwards had previously pitched a proposal to keep benefits in place through the summer, but combined it with a program to create bonuses of up to $1,500 who returned to work within 60 days. This bonus idea, which would have required federal approval, was left out of the final product.
The final measure did retain a House provision that would spend $250 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid on eliminating the individual waiting list for government subsidies for child care. Paying for day care is considered a major stumbling block for mothers to return to work. And there are more work-search requirements, which if not followed could result in the denial of benefits.
But that wasn’t enough of a sweetener for Democrats, who pointed out that eliminating weekly payments will harm people still struggling in a post-pandemic economy. The $300 benefit equates to at least $60 million entering the state’s economy each week.
“These are people who are looking for work or otherwise can’t return to work because of circumstances,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat.
All Democratic senators and all but three House Democrats in attendance voted against the final bill.