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7.14.20

Senate Inaction On Coronavirus Relief “Frustrated Cities,” & Worries Workers As Unemployment Benefits Near Expiration Date

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Mitch McConnell and Thom Tillis are still on a two-week break, and “the countdown is at 13 days — and ticking —” until federal unemployment benefits run out. In North Carolina, which has “one of the stingiest state unemployment programs in the country,” thanks in no small part to Thom Tillis, those who are unemployed rely on federal benefits a lot more. In fact, “about 79% of unemployment-insurance payments to North Carolinians are coming from federal sources.” 

Even as experts say an extension of these benefits “would be good for those workers, but also for the economic recovery,” Thom Tillis has continued to delay action, even signaling via a spokesperson he may oppose extended benefits saying so as not to “make the problem worse by disincentivizing Americans from returning to work.” 

As cases continue to rise and many remain out of work “through no fault of their own,” cutting these benefits would “cause harm to families and ripple through the community as bills for utilities and rent or mortgages are due.” 

And cities and small towns continue to grapple with the effects of “shuttered storefronts, sharp declines in shopping and tourism, and steep drop-offs in tax revenues” on their budgets, while pleading for the federal government to help out.

Cal Cunningham held a press call with local leaders in Guilford County last week, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan who expressed frustration that Greensboro “is now ‘incurring significant expenses’ without a clear indication about how much money they will see reimbursed.” 

North Carolina can’t afford to wait. So when Tillis runs an ad claiming he’s fighting for the one million North Carolinians out of work, North Carolina voters will remember that when it mattered most — he rolled over to Mitch McConnell. 

Our state’s families need action now to ensure they can pay their bills and put food on the table. And our cities and small towns, who are experiencing massive shortfalls, deserve action so that they can keep critical workers on the payroll and continue to support communities through this public health crisis. 


Winston-Salem Journal: Unemployed, furloughed North Carolinians face steep cuts in benefit payments

By Richard Craver – July 13, 2020

  • The countdown is at 13 days — and ticking — until the average North Carolina unemployment claimant potentially loses two-thirds of his or her weekly COVID-19 pandemic-related benefit.
  • According to N.C. Division of Employment Security officials and economists, many federal unemployment insurance recipients are not aware their weekly $600 benefit expires July 26 — just as their August monthly payments are coming due.
  • Currently, a North Carolinian whose job has been eliminated or who has been laid off or furloughed temporarily is receiving on average $277 in state UI benefits, plus the $600 federal benefit.
  • Under the federal CARES Act, the UI programs that began in late April ends after July 31.
  • However. for states such as North Carolina where the unemployment week ends on a Saturday, the programs will cut off July 26.
  • “North Carolina cannot afford the end of the federal program given our stingy state program,” said Bill Rowe, deputy director of advocacy at the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.
  • As of Friday, there have been 1.14 million claimants in North Carolina representing 1.86 million claims.
  • The $600 weekly federal UI benefit was passed — barely — in Congress in April as a compromise to get the payments out quickly, rather than determine payments by individual states.
  • There has been stiff resistance among several Republican U.S. senators, including North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, for an extension at the $600 weekly level.
  • For those GOP senators considering an extension, they appear to favor a reduced federal benefit more in line to what individual states are paying now in UI benefits.
  • North Carolina ranked next to last with Florida in maximum number of UI benefit weeks at 12, and among the lowest in maximum weekly benefit at $350.
  • Tillis is in a tight re-election race with Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.
  • Some political analysts say the federal UI benefits extension could become a key issue considering both Democratic and Republican voters would be affected by the cutoff.
  • Tillis spokesman Adam Webb said in a statement last week that Tillis is among the GOP U.S. senators who believe the best solution is reopening state and the U.S. economies.
  • “Senator Tillis believes we need to help North Carolinians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and have been hurt the most,” Webb said. “His top priority is getting them back to work as soon as possible.
  • “It’s important that Washington doesn’t make the problem worse by disincentivizing Americans from returning to work.”
  • Casey Wilkinson, executive director of left-leaning advocacy group Piedmont Rising, said that “too many North Carolina working families will still rely on unemployment insurance to afford housing, health care and other necessary expenses in the months to come.”
  • “Now is not the time for Tillis and Burr to cut the paychecks to North Carolinians who cannot work through no fault of their own.

Washington Post: State, local governments wrestle over quickly dwindling coronavirus aid, complicating talks on next federal bill

By Tony Romm and Erica Werner – July 13, 2020

  • A $150 billion federal program designed to help states, cities and counties respond to the coronavirus pandemic has pit some governments against each other, forcing them to scrap over the fast-dwindling, limited aid.
  • The fight has intensified as Congress and the White House near deadlines to decide the scope of the next round of coronavirus relief. State and local leaders have demanded between $500 billion and $1 trillion in new assistance, but the vast uncertainty surrounding the initial tranche of funding has fueled accusations that money is being misspent or hoarded.
  • The funds were supposed to help local governments purchase personal protective equipment, pay first responders and cover other public-health costs related to the pandemic. But restrictions in how the aid can be used, and confusion around how it is supposed to be doled out, mean that many have struggled to take full advantage of the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund four months after Democrats and Republicans authorized it.
  • State officials, who largely are overseeing the program, have put aside about $18 billion exclusively to help their smallest localities, far less than some lawmakers anticipated and the Trump administration appeared to prescribe, according to a Washington Post analysis of municipal data.
  • “They’ve sat on this for months. They’ve cut it into pieces so there’s only a third left coming to local government,” said Brad Cole, the executive director of the Illinois Municipal League. “How do you think we feel about it?”
  • Many attribute the troubles to Washington, which hastily passed the Cares Act in March and did not appropriate anywhere near what states and localities had asked for. Now, the headaches threaten to add to the tensions on Capitol Hill as lawmakers resume negotiations over another coronavirus relief package. Republicans have staunchly opposed sky-high spending to help cash-starved state and local governments, but some GOP leaders believe the party’s resistance may fade as cases surge — and local in-fighting worsens — unleashing even more economic havoc in lawmakers’ backyards.
  • For four months, Democrats and Republicans in Washington have warred over the need for local aid. City and state leaders have pointed to shuttered storefronts, sharp declines in shopping and tourism, and steep drop-offs in tax revenues that have come as a result of their efforts to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.
  • In North Carolina, meanwhile, state leaders received $4 billion under the Cares Act to cover their coronavirus expenses. But they put aside just about $300 million for counties to divvy up among themselves and more than 300 local cities and towns. The allotment has frustrated cities such as Greensboro, where Mayor Nancy Vaughan said they expected more money — and are now “incurring significant expenses” without a clear indication about how much money they will see reimbursed.