Despite Trump’s order of extra $400 in weekly jobless benefits, NC timing remains unclear

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Though President Donald Trump signed an executive order over the weekend authorizing extra $400 weekly unemployment payments, it wasn’t clear Monday when, or if, people would receive those payments.  

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) criticized the president’s order Monday, as it calls on states to contribute a quarter of the cost and uses money from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. 

“So, you’re essentially having to choose between disasters there,” Cooper said, adding that Congress should extend the $600 weekly unemployment payments authorized under the CARES Act — the initial COVID-19 relief package.  

Trump made the move Saturday after negotiators from his administration and Congress failed to reach a compromise on the next COVID-19 relief bill. 

In late July, people who qualified for unemployment benefits stopped receiving $600 weekly payments from the federal government on top of what they receive from their states. In North Carolina, the maximum weekly benefit is $350.  

Under the executive order, the federal government would cover 75 percent of the cost of the $400 weekly payments. States could use money they still have from the CARES Act to pay their portion of the unemployment benefits. 

A spokesman for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) pointed out the state had spent about 8.8% of its Coronavirus Relief Fund money as of July.  

The state received about $3.5 billion in CARES Act funding. Though the state has spent a fraction of that, lawmakers already have allocated all but $550 million of that funding, according to Republican Senate leader Phil Berger’s office.  

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In a statement, Tillis said, “With Democrats currently unwilling to reach a commonsense compromise, President Trump was left with no choice but to find ways to provide relief to Americans who have fallen on hard times, including providing additional unemployment assistance. While the President took some important steps, he’s limited in what he can do and it’s simply not enough, which is why we need to stop the political games and come together on a bipartisan basis to deliver additional relief for North Carolinians.” 

Democrat Cal Cunningham, who is running against Tillis this year, said “immediate action” is needed but disagreed with Trump’s decision. 

In a statement he said that “an Executive Order which both cuts unemployment benefits and raids disaster relief funds in the middle of hurricane season is the wrong solution. Senator Tillis should have done his job and prevented unemployment insurance from expiring in the first place.” 

CBS 17 reached out to the state Division of Employment Security to try to find out if any work is being done to begin processing these payments or set up the infrastructure to be able to do that.  

Spokesperson Kerry McComber wrote in an email, “DES is unable to provide details about how this program would be administered until we receive more guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor. We’ll provide more information after it becomes available.” 

Lorenzo Mack Jr., who was laid off from his job as an audio engineer in March, said he appreciated the president taking action. However, he questioned if the move is legal and whether it would ultimately lead to people like him receiving help. 

“Having to go back to this survival mode is really, really unsettling. And, it’s a stress that’s added on top of catching coronavirus on a daily basis,” Mack said. “I appreciate him trying to do something, but the real solve would be working with Congress, coming up with a deal that works for the American people.” 

State Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) said there’s likely to be lawsuits filed over the president’s executive orders.  

“What I see is just a mess. And, that’s not helping people this week. It’s not helping North Carolinians next week. It’s just adding a lot of uncertainty,” Nickel said. “This is something that Republicans criticized Obama for, and it’s the same thing. There’s a way to do this and that’s through regular procedures and processes.” 

Nickel, who is the only Democrat on the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance, has called on the state to increase the maximum weekly benefit by $100. 

His office said there’s currently about $2.9 billion in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. 

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger previously called for the maximum weekly state unemployment benefit to increase by $50.

However, Republicans in the N.C. House have been unwilling to agree to that.  Berger’s office and Speaker Tim Moore’s office declined to comment Monday.  

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