Senate Bill 116, the “Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act,” passed by a 71-36 vote. The bill (pdf) will head to the state Senate, where members can accept the changes or reject them.
The federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, being terminated by lawmakers, extends the $300 weekly benefit to eligible unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians and is set to expire in September.
“This bill is the way to restore strength in our economy, and finally move forward, to put this pandemic in the rear-view mirror,” said state House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican. “This is a common-sense, reasonable approach to taking care of the people of this state, businesses, and the overall economy of this state.”
While businesses in North Carolina have reopened, close to 59 percent of the state’s civilian labor force is employed. A total of about 1.5 million people filed for unemployment claims from March 15, 2020, through May 27, according to a North Carolina Department of Commerce report published on May 21.
Opponents of SB116 said that ending North Carolina’s participation would cost the state about $500 million in federal unemployment insurance benefits.
North Carolina House Minority Leader Robert Reives, a Democrat, said lawmakers are making assumptions about those who are unemployed.
“We, as a society, have gotten to a point now when we look at people who aren’t in our circumstances, we’re getting kind of quick to blame,” Reives said. “We’re looking at them, and we’re putting them in boxes. We’re deciding where they should be and what they should be happy with, and what they should appreciate.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in May issued an executive order directing the Department of Commerce to encourage and help people on unemployment to transition back to employment.
“Unemployment benefits have provided a critical lifeline for many North Carolinians living on the edge due to the pandemic. As our state emerges from the pandemic, we want to help people safely return to work as soon as possible. Reinstating the work search guidelines will help connect claimants with employers, resources, and tools to help them return to the workforce,” said Cooper, a Democrat, in a statement.
The bill would make North Carolina the 26th state seeking to terminate the $300 weekly federal pandemic unemployment boost before funding for the program expires in September.