RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Those receiving unemployment benefits in North Carolina will soon have to fulfill work search requirements.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday he issued Executive Order 216 that aims to help the unemployed get back into the workforce.

In March, Cooper issued an executive order that required new unemployment claimants to prove they are searching for a job. Friday’s order expands it to everyone receiving benefits.

“Unemployment benefits have provided a critical lifeline for many North Carolinians living on the edge due to the pandemic. As our state emerges from the pandemic, we want to help people safely return to work as soon as possible. Reinstating the work search guidelines will help connect claimants with employers, resources and tools to help them return to the workforce,” said Cooper.

The work search requirements begin June 6.

All existing claimants will be required over the next several weeks to register with a jobseeker account on NCWorks.gov.

The executive order also directs the North Carolina Department of Commerce to look into using federal funds to create an incentive program to get the unemployed back on the job. 

That provision comes a day after Republicans in the Senate unveiled a proposal to pay people receiving unemployment benefits up to $1,500 if they accept a job by June 1 and maintain that job for at least 60 days. People who accept a job by July 1 would be eligible for $800.  

“Supplements to unemployment compensation were having a reducing effect on the number of people looking for work and applying for work. That’s not the only factor. But, I do think it is a factor,” said NC State economist Mike Walden. “A lot of people are still reluctant because COVID is still out there. I think there are people who may have a sick relative and they’ve got to stay home. I think a big one is children still home from school.” 

Walden said he doubts Congress will reauthorize additional unemployment benefits when they end in September. As part of the American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed in March, the federal government is giving $300 per week in addition to what people receive in their state benefits. The maximum weekly benefit in North Carolina is $350.  

“So, I can understand the motivation (for incentives). But, I do want to say private businesses can do this themselves by simply saying hey come work for us. We’re gonna make it worth your while,” Walden said.  

Earlier Friday, Republicans in the House of Representatives sent a letter to Cooper urging him to reinstate the work search requirement, which he had said Thursday he planned to do. 

They called attention to the hospitality industry in particular, noting employment at restaurants is down by about 70,000 people compared to before the pandemic. 

“In our districts, we continue to hear from small business owners who are unable to fill new jobs. We believe reinstating work search requirements is a common-sense step to help connect the unemployed with new job opportunities,” the letter reads. 

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

Under the Order:

  • Claimants must make contact with at least three different employers each week and keep a record of their work search, as is required by state law. One of the three weekly job contacts can be satisfied by attending an approved reemployment activity offered by a NCWorks Career Center or a partnering agency.
  • To continue receiving benefits, all unemployment claimants will be required to register with a jobseeker account on NCWorks.gov, North Carolina’s online portal for employment and training services. Jobseekers can use NCWorks.gov to search and apply for jobs, access labor market information and find opportunities for workforce training. Over the next several weeks, existing claimants will receive notifications about registering for NCWorks.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, North Carolina has distributed more than $11.7 billion in unemployment benefits across multiple state and federal programs. Approximately 245,000 North Carolinians are currently receiving benefit payments each week.

On March 17, 2020, Cooper waived the work search requirement – among other changes – in the beginning of the pandemic.