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Democratic lawmakers: NC unemployment insurance system 'underfunded' and 'unprepared'

Posted June 29, 2020 12:01 p.m. EDT
Updated June 30, 2020 4:24 a.m. EDT

— A group of lawmakers held a virtual Zoom meeting Monday urging the General Assembly to make improvements to North Carolina's unemployment insurance (UI) system.

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.”

“Together, we can salvage our economy, but we have to act quickly, and we have to act now," Alston said. "Without a fix to our system, our recovery from this will take longer and hurt more people.”

Alston and other lawmakers, including Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, and Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, expressed the need for the passage of House Bill 1075, which would increase benefit eligibility to a 26-week period and the maximum weekly benefit amount to $450.

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.

Corey Hill, President of UAW Local 3520, the union that represents employees of Freightliner, one of the largest private employers in Rowan County, spoke on behalf of workers in his community.

“Layoffs are taking a toll on our whole community," he said. "We have to look at doing the right thing for working-class people. It took a pandemic to get us here today…in front of people…to talk about this.”

Holley wrapped up the meeting, addressing the concerns of House Bill 1075's opponents.

Holley said some people are hesitant to support the bill and have the "tendency to believe that people are lazy and don’t want to work."

She said some of her Republican colleagues seem to think that people getting unemployment aid are living "fat off the land" and will have no motivation to work if their aid is increased.

Holley said the people who need unemployment aid the most are those "working in the daily grind," adding the process to get unemployment in North Carolina is "cumbersome and difficult."

“This is something lawmakers need to act upon today," Hill said. "It’s never too late to do what is right.”

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