The NC House by a 71-36 vote approved SB116, a bill that would compel Governor Roy Cooper to withdraw from a federal extended unemployment-benefits program before its September 6th expiration date.
The current federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provides a $300 federal weekly benefit to those who are unemployed in addition to what they get from North Carolina's unemployment insurance program. The state's average unemployment benefit is $216; the maximum is $350.
Senate Bill 116 had passed the Senate on March 1 as a high school sports-attendance reopening bill.
It has been renamed as “Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act.”
Rep. Jason Saine added language to the bill that would bar the Employment Security Division from authorizing the additional $300. The legislation, if finalized by Senate approval this week, won't go into effect until 30 days after it becomes law. If Governor Cooper vetoes the bill, it will have to go back to the General Assembly for a possible override of his veto. Cooper has said he has no plans to withdraw North Carolina from the federal program.
Most Republicans say the change is needed because people are remaining unemployed rather than taking available jobs because of the extra money they're getting.
Opponents say that may be true of some, but there are other reasons why jobs have been hard for employers to fill. Among them: most of the available jobs are at lower wages than the unemployed were earning pre-pandemic. Some are minimum wage jobs that provide only $290 for a 40-hour work week before taxes. Others pay more--but the cost of child care is often equal to or greater than what they pay.
Some consider remaining unemployed a bargaining condition. Many fast food restaurants have already resorted to offering sign-on bonuses to attract new employees, and some believe that other employers will likely increase what they're willing to pay as their need for employees grows and jobs remain unfilled.
Some are still hoping to get jobs that will be in fields for which they studied. As one put it, "it's hard to consider a job on an assembly line when you have a master's degree."
Even if those who are unemployed stop getting the extra federal money, it's not certain that will make a big difference in filling open jobs many places. In Lincoln County, the unemployment rate in April was 3.7%. That's as low as it was pre-pandemic and close to the average going back four years except for the higher rate during the pandemic.