With COVID-19 surging and protections running out, NC lawmaker calls lack of stimulus ‘disgraceful’

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As new COVID-19 restrictions go into effect in North Carolina Friday night, Mark Show says he’s worried about the weeks ahead when unemployment benefits are set to end.

“The day after Christmas, a lot of people will be getting coal in their stocking,” he said.

Show works behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, which has been largely shut down since the pandemic began.

He’s found the occasional temporary job over the last several months but has relied on unemployment benefits in the weeks when there is no work. His current gig runs until the end of next week. Funding is set to expire Dec. 26 for federal unemployment benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which are both programs authorized through the CARES Act.

“We’re all going to be in a world of hurting,” Show said. “That is our source of income, and without extended benefits we have no income.”

Starting Friday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is implementing an overnight curfew, which will require many businesses to close by 10 p.m. and cut off alcohol sales at 9 p.m. Other states have closed some businesses down altogether as COVID-19 cases rise.

Show worries about whether that will happen here in the weeks ahead. The state reported a record 7,540 new COVID-19 cases Friday and a new high of 2,514 people being treated in hospitals.

“I don’t know what’s going to come up. We all don’t,” Show said.

Since the spring, lawmakers in Washington have debated what should be in the next COVID-19 relief bill. Months later, there are still disagreements over issues such as liability protections for companies and aid for state and local governments.

“We’re really going to fall off the cliff at the end of this year, with the moratorium on evictions expiring, with the unemployment running out,” said Rep. David Price (D-NC 4th). “The election came and went and we still don’t have relief. That’s just incredible and it’s a disgrace.”

The state’s Division of Employment Security said, as of Nov. 28, there were about 233,000 people in North Carolina receiving unemployment benefits.

Price described the expiring benefits as the “one critical thing” Congress needs to address but noted there are several issues that are pressing.

“There needs to be, of course, reasonable protections against frivolous lawsuits. But, there don’t need to be protections for careless and negligent behavior,” he said. “It’s hard to understand the lack of a sense of urgency that Mitch McConnell and his members seem to have.”

Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC 3rd) said he disagreed with Cooper’s decision to implement the curfew.

“This was part of the reason I really didn’t these restrictions should be done. We need to get something done in Washington but not make it worse here in North Carolina while we’re trying to do so,” he said.

He said he’s optimistic Congress will reach a deal before legislators leave Washington for the holidays. He said it needs to include the liability protections as well as unemployment benefits.

“The folks who need help are the small business owners who have just been crushed by the pandemic, by having to close or only open at half capacity,” he said.

Show said as he looked ahead to the end of the year, he expected Congress would be in this position of still negotiating a compromise, describing his attitude not as a glass-half-empty but as “three-quarters-empty.”

“It’s frustrating and, to me, there’s a disconnect to those folks. They have a job, at least for the next two years,” he said. “You were elected to help and represent the people of this country. They’re asking for help. They’re saying they need help.”

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