RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As people who have been unemployed for the past year learn about cuts to their weekly state unemployment benefits, a spokesperson for the Division of Employment Security said Wednesday it is possible some of those people could see their benefit amounts restored retroactively.
CBS 17 first reported Tuesday on the unexpected cuts people are being notified about to their weekly unemployment payments.
Jenni Propst, who has been out of work since last March, learned her weekly payment would drop from the state maximum of $350 to $192.
Since then, viewers have reached out with similar stories.
One person said their payment was cut to $40, while another said their payment had been reduced to $20.
Because it’s been one year since the initial wave of unemployment claims tied to the pandemic, people have to refile for benefits once they reach the 52-week mark.
Those payments are calculated based on income, which was substantially lower for many people impacted by the pandemic in 2020.
“It just feels like a dirty political move to hurt the citizens of this state,” Propst said.
Members of the General Assembly who oversee the state’s unemployment program met Wednesday.
“We’ve got a delicate balance that we need to work here,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-48th District).
CBS 17 asked Edwards about the reports we’ve received from people seeing their payments significantly reduced as they struggle to find new jobs and await the time when it’s safe to resume their previous jobs.
When asked whether state lawmakers should take any action with regard to the reduced payments, he said, “Well, I believe what we’ve just seen come from Washington seeks to address that. It extends the programs that have been in place.”
Kerry McComber, a spokesperson for the Division of Employment Security said Wednesday it is possible some people could see their weekly benefit amount restored retroactively.
She noted the stimulus bill that passed in December 2020 has a provision that people who qualify for benefits under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program could continue to get their benefits at the same weekly rate they did before they had to reapply this year.
That would require action by the General Assembly, she noted. A bill under consideration has a provision that would allow for that.
“If the law is passed, DES will retroactively adjust weekly benefit amounts for claimants as necessary,” McComber wrote.
Democratic lawmakers in the state House and Senate filed additional bills Wednesday that aim to increase the maximum weekly benefit the state pays from the current maximum of $350 to $500.
People could also qualify for 26 weeks, which would be an increase from the current sliding scale of 12-20 weeks.
“We have close to $2.6 billion in our (unemployment insurance) trust fund right now. That ranks us No. 2 in the country in total dollar amount,” said Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), a primary sponsor of the bill. “When you talk about what you can do, we’ve got money essentially in a rainy-day fund. And, if this isn’t a rainy day, I don’t know what is.”
When asked whether he would support increasing weekly benefits to a maximum of $500, Sen. Edwards said there’s “room” to discuss what the maximum payment should be.
He said, “The issue we have in North Carolina right now is, first, getting the claims approved for folks that are out of work. And, then secondly, getting folks back to work.”