RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives on Thursday voted to pass a bill that would end the additional $300 in unemployment insurance provided by the federal government.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Senate Bill 116, which passed by a margin of 71-36, would withdraw North Carolina from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation agreement. It would end the additional $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit 30 days after becoming law.
Seven Democrats joined with the Republicans in voting in favor of the bill.
“We need to make sure the benefits are paid to those who need it, but at the end of the day when folks can have a job and there’s so many jobs available, people need to go back to work,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R). “We’re looking at COVID in the rear-view mirror. And, now the problem is with the economy moving forward, is finding folks to work.”
Under the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed earlier this year, the additional unemployment payments are scheduled to last until September. About half of states, all led by Republican governors, have announced plans to end those payments earlier.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has resisted calls to stop those payments.
“I don’t believe that cutting off benefits at this time will do what people think it will do, and it will also leave people in a bad state,” he said Thursday.
The bill also includes a tax break for people who received unemployment benefits last year and for businesses that received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Republican Senate leaders have not supported either of those provisions.
Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg), who’s an economist, said he thinks the issue will be largely resolved when the additional unemployment benefits end later this year.
“Are there people that potentially are taking advantage of the system? Perhaps. But, there are bunches of people, there are thousands of North Carolinians who are relying on this money to get by,” he said. “The system is working. And, this is just a mean-spirited effort to get a political win and say we’re going to get people back to work when it’s not going to really help them.”
The Division of Employment Security says there are about 240,000 people currently receiving weekly unemployment benefits in North Carolina.
Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bill to use the federal unemployment money to pay people a bonus up to $1,500 to take a job and keep it for at least 60 days. People who still cannot find work would not lose their benefits under that bill.
However, it would need Congressional approval. Speaker Moore said he doesn’t want to wait to see whether that happens.
“The bonuses simply are not allowed by federal law. We’ve checked on that,” Moore said. “We need to make sure the benefits are paid to those who need it, but at the end of the day when folks can have a job and there’s so many jobs available, people need to go back to work.”
After the House vote Thursday, Sen. Phil Berger (R) said the Senate could also move to try to stop the enhanced unemployment payments, but he said he thinks a bill to do that should also include added work-search requirements.
In response to concerns raised about people lacking access to childcare as a barrier to returning to work, Moore amended the bill Thursday to now include $250 million for child care costs using funding from the American Rescue Plan. But, Democrats noted that funding was already designated for that purpose.