NC lawmakers split on unemployment benefits amount as workers call for extension

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With negotiations still underway on the next COVID-19 relief bill, some unemployed workers are calling for an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which ran out last month.

Rose Nuchims, who works backstage for touring theatrical productions, has been out of work since the pandemic began. She says it could be some time next year before she’s able to return to her job.

“We have a feast or famine, if you will, kind of industry. And, the summer is our feast and it’s gone,” she said.

As part of the CARES Act, which Congress passed earlier this year, people who qualified received $600 per week in additional federal benefits on top of whatever amount they qualified to receive from the state.

In North Carolina, a person could have received as much as $950 per week. The payments were scheduled to end July 31.

Members of Congress and the Trump administration are still negotiating the next COVID-19 relief bill. Nuchims said the lapse in benefits has created uncertainty as she looks months down the road and whether she’ll have enough money to pay her bills.

“We pay into the unemployment system for this purpose, so that it does take care of us,” she said. “It’s becoming a political issue. But, it shouldn’t be a party thing. It should be we just need to fix Americans.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 10.2 percent in July compared to 11.1 percent in June. Though the nation added 1.8 million jobs the report indicates the economic recovery is slowing.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) decided this week to extend phase two of the state’s reopening for five weeks. That means a variety of businesses such as bars, entertainment venues and gyms must remain closed.

In May, the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act. That bill totaled more than $3 trillion in spending and extended the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits into the beginning of next year.

Some Republicans in the Senate have called for those payments to stop altogether while others have said they support continuing the payments at a lower amount.

In an interview Friday with CBS 17, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) said the federal payments should continue but at a rate such that people do not make more from unemployment benefits than they did when they were working.

“Think about the essential workers, people working, there’s an inherent unfairness with this concept of being paid more to be out of work. And, we also have to provide an incentive for people to go back to work if they can do it safely,” Tillis said.

A report released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in June noted that if the $600 weekly payments were extended that about five out of six recipients would make more from unemployment benefits than they did while working.

As CBS 17 previously reported, a study by Yale found people getting more in unemployment benefits were no slower to return to work than those who received less. In some cases, the report found people getting larger payments may be quicker to return to the workforce.

“I know they’re in the lurch now because it’s expired. I believe that we’re going to pass a measure. The President’s going to act so it will be retroactive to last week, and they will have support. And, I’m working hard to make sure we give them that support,” Tillis said.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC 1st) said he stands by his support of the HEROES Act, calling for the $600 weekly payments to continue.

“We’ve got to get money in the hands of the American people because COVID is not their fault. They are a victim of COVID-19,” he said. “Once reasonable minds prevail and once we can reach some common ground, I believe we will be putting more money in the pipeline, extending enhanced unemployment.”

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