RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some Democrats in Congress are pushing back on an effort by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly to stop the increased unemployment benefits from the federal government, saying it’s too soon to end those weekly payments.
The state House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that put an end to the additional $300 weekly checks unemployed people are receiving, arguing the move is needed because so many businesses are struggling to hire people.
“I think that there are many things keeping people from coming back to work. First of all, not everybody has gotten the coronavirus vaccine,” said U.S Deborah Ross (D-NC 2nd District). “We have parents, particularly moms, whose kids are not back in school.”
Ross joined other Democrats in Congress earlier this year in voting in favor of the American Rescue Plan, which authorized people who are unemployed to receive $300 per week in addition to the unemployment benefits they receive from their state until September 6.
Half of the states, all of which are led by Republican governors, have announced plans to end those payments sooner than that, as businesses in a variety of industries say they’re having trouble finding workers.
“I think that the benefits should stay in place, and we should have additional options. So, we should use every tool in our toolkit to make sure that people can get back to work and school safely, that they can pay their bills,” said Ross.
She said she’s open to a different idea proposed by Republicans in the state Senate. They passed a bill this week that would pay people who are unemployed a bonus of up to $1,500 to take a job and keep it for at least 60 days. People who do not get a job would not lose their unemployment benefits under that bill.
However, the state would need federal approval to use the funding meant for unemployment benefits to pay the bonuses.
“I think that that is on the table, and it may be exactly right for some employees,” said Ross. “We’re going back to start voting in the middle of June, so we never know what’s going to happen.”
State House Speaker Tim Moore (R) criticized the idea and questioned whether Congress ever actually would allow for the bonuses.
“We cannot wait on the U.S. Congress to fix a North Carolina problem. We in North Carolina need to do this,” said Moore. “There’s also a fairness issue. What about the folks that have been working this whole time, that have shown up and worked? Why would we essentially penalize them for having worked this whole time by paying someone to go back to work?”
The bill the House passed does not call for bonuses to go to people who take a job.
Jenni Propst, who works in the theater industry, said she’s starting to get work again some weeks. But, during other weeks she still relies on unemployment benefits to pay the bills.
“You can’t turn off an industry for 15 months and then flip a switch and expect it to be back to normal at 100 percent,” she said. “We still need just a couple more months. We don’t need a lot of time. We’re gonna be back probably in September.”
She called the move to end the federal unemployment payments sooner “ridiculous” and urged state leaders to keep them in place until the September cut-off date.
When asked if she would support extending the federal benefits past September, Rep. Ross said, “The way the economy is going right now, it doesn’t appear that that’s in the cards. But, we need to pay attention every single month, not just look at one point in time.”
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent as the country added 559,000 jobs.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC 8th District) called the jobs report “disappointing.”
He voted against the American Rescue Plan, and said he thinks the federal unemployment benefits should end. He also said he supports the proposal to pay an incentive for people to return to work and for Congress to give the state the flexibility to pay the bonuses.
“Let’s reverse those incentives. Let’s give people an incentive to get back into the workforce. We know that there’s value in going to work,” he said. “Anything we can do to get people back into the workforce, I think is a good thing.”