State gets approval to increase unemployment checks by $300

Posted August 21, 2020 11:56 a.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2020 10:32 a.m. EDT

NC Division of Employment Security website

— The state applied Thursday for a federal unemployment boost that should add at least $300 to people's weekly unemployment checks. On Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the request.

State Division of Employment Security spokeswoman Kerry McComber confirmed the approval in an email to WRAL News.

"DES has been working to reprogram its benefits system and set up the accounting process to make payments to eligible North Carolinians as quickly as possible," McComber said. "Updates on a timeline for payments will be provided as more information is available.

It's not clear when people will get the money, but DES said it's working to determine eligibility for the new program, which President Donald Trump announced nearly two weeks ago.

The money may only cover three weeks of benefits, all of which have already ended. It would be paid retroactively, covering the last week of July and the first two weeks of August, the department said.

After those three weeks, FEMA will "assess further distribution of funds," the department said. The agency is involved because the funding comes from a federal disaster relief program, and use of that funding is capped under the president's plan.

There are still unanswered questions about how this all will work. Trump announced the program as a $400-a-week boost, with a $100 match coming from the state. But DES said it learned this week that, under federal rules, the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, used to pay regular state unemployment benefits, can't be used to pay the supplement.

Officials in both Gov. Roy Cooper's administration and the General Assembly are working through the program's details, and it's possible the larger $400 payments will eventually come through.

According to DES, in order to be eligible for the extra $300 people must:

  • Be eligible for at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits from programs including state unemployment insurance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Extended Benefits.
  • Be unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency said it will "provide assistance to North Carolinians as quickly as possible upon FEMA approval," but it also said – as the Cooper administration has repeatedly – that it would be quicker if Congress would simply re-up the $600-a-week federal supplement that ran out in July.

It would be better, DES Assistant Secretary Pryor Gibson said in a memo Thursday, to use a program states "already have in place instead of implementing an entirely new program."

Without the federal supplement, state unemployment benefits are roughly half a person's salary, capped at $350 a week. Cooper and other Democrats have repeatedly asked the Republican-controlled General Assembly to increase those benefits, and it's possible the legislature will take that up when it returns to session next month.

Senate leaders said in a news release Friday afternoon that "budget writers are running numbers now on how much to increase North Carolina's maximum unemployment benefit," but they described the potential increase as a "could," not a will.

That signals a lack of consensus ahead of the session. The Senate approved an increase earlier this year, but the House declined to go along with it.

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