Local unemployed workers concerned about what’s next amid possibility of losing benefits

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the latest jobs report released Thursday shows millions of people going back to work in June, some workers who remain unemployed are concerned about losing benefits later this month.

The nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 11.1 percent in June as more states reopened parts of their economies. The rate fell from 13.3 percent in May. The unemployment rate for North Carolina in June will be released later this month.

Chris Keener, who works backstage at live events, has been unemployed since the pandemic began. He’s unsure when he’ll be able to get back to work and has relied on unemployment benefits to get by during this time.

Since Congress passed the CARES Act in the spring, people who are unemployed have received an additional $600 per week from the federal government in unemployment benefits on top of what they receive from the state. In North Carolina, people can receive a maximum of $350 per week for 12 to 20 weeks.

On the week ending July 25, the additional $600 per week payments will end.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty. I know a lot of people are starting to panic a bit about not having work and trying to figure out what’s next,” Keener said.

Casey Wilkinson, executive director of the advocacy group Piedmont Rising, called on Congress to take immediate action. Congress will be in recess July 3 through July 17.

“They’ll go without being able to pay rent without being able to get prescription medicines that they need. This will have a real impact on people’s lives,” said Wilkinson. “We have one of the worst unemployment systems in the nation, and it’s up to Senator Tillis and Senator Burr to fix this problem.”

Democrats in Congress have proposed extending the federal unemployment benefits for six more months. Some Republicans have raised concerns about people making more from those benefits than they would by returning to work.

A June 4 report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says, “Roughly five out of every six recipients would receive benefits that exceeded the weekly amounts they could expect to earn from work during those six months.”

The report also noted the country’s economic output would likely be greater in the second half of the year with the extension but likely lower in 2021.

“I don’t think it’s productive to extend the added money from the federal government,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R).

Republicans in the Senate have proposed alternatives such as a return-to-work bonus or extending benefits by an amount that would not exceed a worker’s usual wages.

In an email to CBS 17, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis spokesperson Adam Webb wrote, “Senator Tillis believes we need to help North Carolinians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and have been hurt the most and his top priority is getting them back to work as soon as possible. It’s important that Washington doesn’t make the problem worse by disincentivizing Americans from returning to work, a concern Senator Tillis has repeatedly heard from North Carolina small business owners and something he will keep in mind as Congress evaluates the ongoing economic recovery and considers additional relief legislation.”

Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State, said he doesn’t expect a resolution to this issue before the $600 weekly payments end.

“We probably want to help unemployed workers, but I think we have to do it in a smart way so that we don’t deter folks from actually going back to work,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the deadline at the end of July pass and nothing happen, but I think that will increase pressure for something to be done. So, I’m predicting something will be done. It may not be done fast enough to get those folks who run out of this $600. They’re going to have to go sometime without it past July.”

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