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North Carolinians Wait For Action On COVID-19 Relief While Senate Is In Recess

Federal Unemployment Benefits Near Expiration Date, Cities & Small Towns Face Devastating Budget Shortfalls

RALEIGH, NC – Mitch McConnell and Thom Tillis have packed up for a two-week recess, leaving North Carolinians to wait for action on critical COVID-19 relief. As coronavirus cases continue to rise and a million North Carolininans have applied for unemployment, Thom Tillis’ inaction is unacceptable.

Even as “the future of the federal benefits remains cloudy” and state lawmakers worry “many will be in crisis come August when those benefits end,” Thom Tillis has been silent on whether he favors extending the federal unemployment benefits. Not surprising coming from an architect of “one of the stingiest state unemployment programs in the country.” 

That’s why many are concerned about the nearing expiration date: The federal government has in some ways masked what the problems are in North Carolina, but when that program ends at the end of July we’re back to the system we had for the last seven years.”

On top of that, local governments and communities across the state are facing massive budget shortfalls. It is imperative that the federal government steps in to relieve these shortfalls, and help communities support essential workers and continue to provide public services. 

Cal Cunningham has called for additional financial relief for towns and cities, to help keep teachers, first responders and public safety officials on payroll, as well as to continue providing important public services like waste management and infrastructure support.  

“Instead of staying in Washington and doing his job, Thom TIllis followed Mitch McConnell’s orders yet again, taking a two-week break instead of getting to work on the next round of COVID-19 relief to help struggling North Carolina families and communities,” said Kate Fraunfelder, spokesperson for Cal for NC. “More than ever, North Carolinians need a leader who’ll insist on getting the job done, not someone who packs up and goes home.” 

Read more about North Carolina communities and families who need further federal action: 

Winston Salem Journal: N.C. nears $5 billion in federal, state unemployment payments

  • North Carolina is closing in on $5 billion in overall unemployment insurance benefit payments as the future of the federal benefits remains cloudy.
  • That means that 71.8% of unemployment insurance payments to North Carolinians are coming from federal sources, mostly the $600 weekly benefit.
  • What makes that percentage critical for unemployed or furloughed North Carolinians is that federal benefits could expire as early as July 25 unless extended by Congress.
  • North Carolina U.S. senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have not commented publicly on whether they favor extending the federal benefits.

WRAL: Democratic lawmakers: NC unemployment insurance system ‘underfunded’ and ‘unprepared’

  • Speakers included Rep. Vernetta Alston, D-Durham, who said the General Assembly has done “very little” to do more for the more than 1 million North Carolinians who are unemployed.
  • Alston called North Carolina’s UI system “underfunded and unprepared” and “one of the worst in the country.”
  • Nickel expressed concern that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides $600 in weekly UI to eligible applicants, expires July 31. He is worried many will be in crisis come August when those benefits end.

News & Observer: Fewer people in NC are waiting on unemployment benefits, but the relief is temporary

  • Experts say the biggest unemployment crisis is yet to hit North Carolina. Federal benefits under the CARES Act, which has provided applicants of unemployment benefits an additional $600 a week, are set to expire at the end of July, leaving North Carolina residents to make do with the lowest state benefits in the country. At the end of 2019, the average weekly benefit in North Carolina was $277, while the national average was $378.
  • “The pandemic has shown how states like North Carolina, if workers had to rely on the benefits that states would have provided them, they wouldn’t have been able to make it,” said Bill Rowe, deputy director of advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center, a progressive policy organization.
  • “The federal government has in some ways masked what the problems are in North Carolina, but when that program ends at the end of July we’re back to the system we had for the last seven years,” Rowe told The News & Observer in a phone interview.
  • While Wiley’s office has stopped receiving calls from constituents frustrated with DES delays and lack of transparency, he’s now fielding calls from people with longer-term concerns.
  • “Now it’s more like, ‘I’m really concerned because my benefits are ending and what am I going to do to pay my bills on Aug. 1?” Nickel said. “The situation is very dire for jobless workers in North Carolina right now.”

News & Observer: NC cities and towns are facing a money crisis. Will GOP leaders in Congress help?

  • The COVID-19 shutdown has withered local governments’ main revenue sources: sales, property and occupancy taxes. Now local governments face a crisis unless Republican state lawmakers allocate more relief and Congress approves another round of aid.
  • “The economic downturn created by the coronavirus pandemic is hitting cities all across North Carolina straight between the eyes,” Paul Meyer, executive director of the N.C . League of Municipalities said in a video posted on Twitter. “We haven’t seen an economic downturn like this in decades upon decades.”
  • Unfortunately, the House bill is unlikely to get through the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate measure is being held up by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has suggested that states should consider bankruptcy. He wants to assess the effect of the first wave of relief before approving another.
  • The CARES Act didn’t provide enough care for local governments and the General Assembly is compounding the problem as it debates how much of the federal relief cities and towns should receive. That needs to change.

Carteret County News Times: Mayors appeal to Tillis for help with virus-related revenue losses

  • Mayors of four Carteret County towns are among others in the eastern part of the state who signed a letter asking U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., for assistance to address revenue shortfalls resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • Furthermore, “Cities and towns did not cause the situation that they now find themselves in; a global pandemic did,” the mayors wrote. “Their needs are neither Republican nor Democratic. Their needs are the needs of the citizens of our state, in small towns and in larger cities.”
  • The mayors urged Sen. Tillis to “move beyond this crisis to a better day and support legislation that will address local revenue shortfalls and ensure a strong economic future.”