NC State economist believes recent COVID-19 surge will urge Congress to pass new stimulus

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Jenni Propst sums it up in one word: “devastating.”  

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, she lost her job in the entertainment industry where she worked backstage at a variety of shows and live events. 

Unemployment benefits she received from the state and federal governments helped her as she paid her bills, looked for work and hoped to get back to the career she loves. 

Next week, she’ll get the final check but will still be out of a job. 

“I’m really scared. I’ve mostly made ends meet dipping into savings. But, with nothing absolutely coming in, it’s stressful,” she said. “It’s so stressful, just being completely not in control of my future.” 

Propst said many of her colleagues stopped receiving unemployment benefits earlier this year. 

“Nothing has changed. And, people in this country are suffering and are hurting,” she said.  

President-elect Joe Biden this week urged Congress to act immediately to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill. Negotiations have gone on for months as lawmakers disagree over how much to spend and where to target that money. 

“Right now, they’re discussing a solution and hopefully we will be able to present a package to the American people very soon,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC 1st) told CBS 17. “If that does not happen, I can assure you President-elect Biden will have that as a priority during his first 100 days in office.” 

Propst worries that’s too long to wait. 

“Right now, it’s survival. It’s a survival game,” she said. 

The Democratic-led House passed the HEROES Act in May, which would have spent more than $3 trillion on a variety of things, some of which include: enhanced unemployment benefits, aid to states and local governments and stimulus checks to most Americans. 

The Republican-controlled Senate has not taken a vote on that, but has pushed for an aid package of about $500 billion to pass earlier this fall, which included an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, COVID-19 testing and unemployment benefits.  

“It’s something that I think is important. We need a recovery package. But, the other developments are, I think, still to happen,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC 9th). “I’m still looking for that for the people of the 9th District, for North Carolina and for the whole country. But, not much to report right now.” 

The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate in North Carolina in September was 7.3 percent, which was below the U.S. rate of 7.9 percent. The agency reported that North Carolina’s unemployment rate ranked 30th among states. 

“I think if we had a stimulus package, we would have seen a better economic push,” said NC State economist Mike Walden. “People who are higher-income, professional jobs, they’re doing very well. People at the lower end of the income ladder have not done as well. I think a stimulus package would have alleviated that difference to some degree.” 

Walden said as other states reinstate restrictions amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, he believes that will provide renewed urgency for Congress to reach an agreement.  

“And, I think that is a real concern, that we’ll have some backsliding, and that more people will be hurt and there won’t be money there to help them get out of that situation,” Walden said. “Something will occur before the end of the year because I think there’s a new sense, especially with a second surge that there can be a lot of harm done to people if we don’t get some further assistance.” 

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