North Carolinians wait for unemployment benefits as state, feds implement new law

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Even though Congress approved funding for additional unemployment benefits last month, Jenni Propst said weeks later she hasn’t received any of the money.

Out of work from her job as a stagehand since March, Propst was relieved when Congress reached a deal on a new stimulus package. Her benefits had run owut in early December.

However, since then she’s received nothing.

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay my mortgage every month anymore. The reality is the bills and expenses keep coming, but there’s no way to pay them,” she said.

As part of the latest stimulus package, Congress approved extensions of two benefits programs tied to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as $300 weekly payments through March 13.

Propst said she and some of her friends who also work in the entertainment industry and previously exhausted their benefits still have not received these new payments since former President Donald Trump signed them into law Dec. 27.

She’s tried contacting the state’s Division of Employment Security.

When you call the hotline, a recorded message tells callers the following: “States are awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor about how to implement the new and extended federal benefit. These benefits cannot be paid until official guidance is received and the benefits system is reprogrammed.”

CBS 17 reached out to DES for additional information about why the payments are not going out.

Spokeswoman Kerry McComber said that for people who did not exhaust their benefits, they’ve continued to receive weekly payments under the new programs, including the additional $300 per week that Congress approved.

However, she said the agency is still working to “reprogram its benefits system” to pay people whose benefits previously ran out under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

The state is also still in the process of implementing other provisions of the most recent stimulus bill, she said.

It wasn’t clear when the state anticipates issuing the payments to people who so far have not been receiving them.

CBS 17 also reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the issue the state cited about awaiting guidance from them.

Spokesman Egan Reich said that information actually has gone out.

“The Department has published all the necessary guidance for states on the major provisions,” Reich wrote in an email.

Reich noted the first piece of guidance was published on Dec. 30 and the final piece on Jan. 8.

Reich added, “The Department has conducted five technical assistance webinars with states between January 4, and January 12, 2021, and will continue to provide technical assistance. The Department knows that there are many changes under the new law that states must implement. We do not have specific information on state implementation timelines.”

Propst said she hopes to get some clarity soon.

“I’m going on seven or eight weeks now and no answers can be had at DES, at least not any answers that make sense,” said Propst. “Right now, I don’t even know who the problem is.”

Rep. David Price (D-NC 4th) said his office has received messages about this issue as well.

“Some of this has begun to happen, but it’s not fast enough. And, of course, it was long overdue when it was passed. This should have been done months ago,” he said. “So, it’s important that people keep reporting to us what their experience is with getting what’s coming to them and also that we keep pressing.”

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