Not even the worst economic crisis in generations, with more than
1 million North Carolinians out of work, could move House negotiators on COVID-19 relief legislation to agree to a small, positive step to fix the state’s broken Unemployment Insurance (UI) program.
This past weekend, state House conferees refused to accept the Senate’s provision in SB 704 (COVID-19 Recovery Act) that would have increased the maximum weekly UI benefit from $350 to $400 and temporarily changed how the state calculates UI weekly benefits. This formula was adopted in 2013 for the sole purpose of reducing the assistance available to those out of work through no fault of their own. North Carolina is the only state to use such a harsh formula in calculating UI benefits.
Hopefully, the General Assembly will address the deficiencies of North Carolina’s UI system. It has the unwelcome distinction of being one of the worst in the country for the amount and duration of benefits, along with a rock-bottom “recipiency” rate of less than 9% of North Carolina’s unemployed receiving benefits.
Despite these troubling facts, there are still positive signs that progress can be made. The state Senate deserves credit for its bipartisan and unanimous support for these improvements, and the North Carolina Chamber has said it is willing to consider supporting changes that lift the state’s UI system from being the stingiest for workers when they need it most.
What is unclear at this point is if the leaders of the House will ever consider doing the same. That uncertainty is incredibly disappointing and quite remarkable during these unprecedented times. We hope the next time the General Assembly comes back into session in a few weeks, action will be taken to repair North Carolina’s broken UI’s system.
Bill Rowe is General Counsel and Deputy Director of Advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center. He has worked in the field of unemployment insurance on behalf of North Carolina workers for more than three decades.