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It appears Senator Thom Tillis has all but given up on getting relief to North Carolinians who continue to be impacted by COVID-19, as Senate Republicans “think they have political cover to leave town” and “hopes” have “dimmed for another federal aid package before the presidential election.”
Now in North Carolina, the number of weeks provided under the federal extended benefits are dropping, and experts are warning of its effect: “With this reduction it is even more critical that NC stop tying our duration to the Unemployment Rate which is a flawed measure of the health of an economy…Until such time as people have jobs to go back to and the jobs permanently lost are replaced, Unemployment Insurance is a critical support. Without it hardship will only further grow and hold back our recovery.” North Carolina is already at the bottom of the pack when it comes to unemployment benefits, offering the shortest duration and one of the lowest average amounts for those out of work.
But small businesses are not only cutting workers, they are looking everywhere to limit expenses. The New York Times reports that next on the chopping block is health care. Absent from Senator Tillis’ COVID-19 relief was any plan to ensure North Carolinian have quality, affordable health care, leaving workers like Jeremy Fritz, who lost their health coverage during a global pandemic feeling like they are “going into this thunderstorm without an umbrella.”
Experts estimate “at least three million Americans have already lost job-based coverage” and “tens of millions of people could lose their job-based insurance by the end of the year.” Researchers also warn that “there could be significant coverage losses if insurers and lawmakers fail to act in the coming months.”
And as the Supreme Court vacancy threatens the fate of the Affordable Care Act, one small business owner fears Republicans are “fighting to go back in time.” Last week, Cal Cunningham spoke with North Carolinians, Bev Veals and Susie Evans, about the impact the Affordable Care Act had on their families. For Bev Veals, a three-time cancer survivor, the ACA gave her the dignity to fight for her life. For Susie, the ACA meant her children would be protected from pre-existing conditions discrimination. Without it, both Bev and Susie fear they wouldn’t be able to afford the coverage their families need.
Senator Tillis has failed to act when North Carolinians needed it the most, exacerbating the effects of this crisis. He’s had months to bring people together and take action to provide relief for those out of work, small businesses, schools, and local governments. But instead of putting North Carolina first, he waited for instructions from Mitch McConnell on how to vote. North Carolina deserves better than a Senator who puts his political security ahead of fighting for them.
By Sophie Kasakove – September 27, 2020
The number of weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits available under the Extended Benefits program will fall to six beginning Oct. 10, according to an update from the state Division of Employment Security.
The program currently provides 9.6 weeks. The number is dropping because of a decline in the state’s unemployment rate, DES said.
The state’s unemployment rate fell from from 8.5% in July to 6.5% in August.
The number of weeks of Extended Benefits available is also tied to the number of weeks of state benefits available. North Carolina and Florida offer the shortest maximum regular benefit duration in the country at 12 weeks.
While the N.C. unemployment rate fell from 8.5% to 6.5% in August, not all of those people have returned to work, The News & Observer previously reported. Because the unemployment rate only reflects jobless people who are actively looking for work, the decline also reflects a drop in the workforce overall. Between July and August, the seasonally adjusted workforce shrank from 4,897,607 to 4,825,921, a decline of more than 70,000 people, or 1.5%.
“With this reduction it is even more critical that NC stop tying our duration to the Unemployment Rate which is a flawed measure of the health of an economy,” wrote Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center, part of the North Carolina Justice Center, in an email. “Until such time as people have jobs to go back to and the jobs permanently lost are replaced, Unemployment Insurance is a critical support. Without it hardship will only further grow and hold back our recovery.”
North Carolina also offers one of the lowest average benefit amounts in the country. As of August, North Carolina’s average weekly benefit was $210.98, compared to the national average of $305.39, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That number excludes federal supplements.
Losing coverage in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, as millions of other Americans have, was like “going into this thunderstorm without an umbrella,” Mr. Fritz recalled. Active Wellness put him in touch with an insurance broker, which helped him and his husband sign up for a plan under the Affordable Care Act.
For people like Mr. Fritz, as well as those who qualify for Medicaid under the law, “there is still a safety net that wasn’t there 10 years ago,” said Sara R. Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund.
Hopes have also dimmed for another federal aid package before the presidential election. Not only are businesses shedding workers, with the nation’s unemployed numbering roughly 13.6 million, but employers are also cutting expenses like health coverage, and projections of rising numbers of uninsured have grown bleak.
Tens of millions of people could lose their job-based insurance by the end of the year, said Stan Dorn, the director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at Families USA, the Washington, D.C., consumer group. “The odds are we are on track to have the largest coverage losses in our history,” he said.
While estimates vary, a recent Urban Institute analysis of census data says at least three million Americans have already lost job-based coverage, and a separate analysis from Avalere Health predicts some 12 million will lose it by the end of this year. Both studies highlight the disproportionate effect on Black and Hispanic workers.
Describing those employers as “the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” the researchers say there could be significant coverage losses if insurers and lawmakers fail to act in the coming months. Nearly a third of small businesses surveyed in late June said they were not sure they could keep paying premiums beyond August, according to the report.
Dave Piersall, the owner of Lake Marine & RV, a boating business in Woodstock, Ill., used some of his federal aid on the $7,400-a-month insurance bill to cover his employees. “We came within inches of being canceled,” he said.
Although his business has rebounded as people have bought boats to help them cope with staying home, he worries about the coming cold weather. “I would be lying if I didn’t say winter is a scary time for the boat business,” Mr. Piersall said. “The health care is the biggest concern.”
And as hard as he is trying to maintain insurance for everyone, he is also concerned about efforts to do away with Obamacare. He was uninsured for a year and a half after leaving a corporate job to start the business before he could enroll in an A.C.A. plan that covered his Crohn’s disease.
“They’re fighting to go back in time,” he said, adding that he and his wife could lose coverage if companies were no longer required to cover pre-existing conditions. “It’s a great fear,” he said.