With only 48 hours remaining, advocates in North Carolina call on Senators Burr and Tillis to transform urgent crisis into long-term effort to improve lifeline insurance programs

RALEIGH (July 23, 2020) – As senators and their staff returned to Congress following recess this week, working people, job seekers, and other advocates in North Carolina are joining together to call on Senators Burr and Tillis to extend the $600 lifeline in weekly Unemployment Insurance (UI).
With the federal UI supplement ending the week of July 25, Congressional action is required to prevent a disruption to unemployment benefits, which would be critical in reducing hardship and ensuring economic recovery.

Data released today by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that continued claims for the week of July 11 total 360,000, while 197,000 claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance continued. Initial claims continue to remain persistently high, with 28,000 filed that week, nearly eight times levels experienced the same week a year ago.

These data show that Congressional inaction would impact many North Carolinians across the state.

Extending the $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) until the nationwide unemployment crisis is stabilized will help the 30 million workers nationwide and their families pay for basic necessities and emergency expenditures not covered by standard unemployment payments.

In North Carolina, as analysis from the Budget & Tax Center showed earlier this year, the federal boost is much more important because the state weekly benefit amount provides too little in wage replacement to support basic needs like paying rent and mortgages, putting food on the table, and affording prescriptions.

North Carolina benefits would reduce by 71 percent from $877 per week to $277 per week. Both figures fall below the average weekly wage in the state and estimates of what it takes to meet basic needs. The state’s average weekly benefit amount of $270 per week is equivalent to just $6.75 per hour.

This crisis supplement is especially important for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx workers, who are represented disproportionately in lower-paying jobs and have therefore been unable to save for emergencies. Due to structurally racist barriers to employment, Black workers, in particular, are still in recovery from the last recession long after a large part of the economy has stabilized.

“Senators Burr and Tillis must work in the next 48 hours to make unemployment extensions and expansions automatic and tied to state unemployment rates. Without quick action, unemployed workers will see their final $600 PUC payment on July 25th,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy for the North Carolina Justice Center.

North Carolina advocates are calling for immediate action to extend the $600 lifeline. Maintaining the $600 PUC payment would assure the state’s unemployed workers and families that they will be able to cover basic living expenses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing the program also would avoid placing more strain on the state’s unemployment agency that would result from more complex changes in the law.

In a virtual town hall on Tuesday evening, working people and advocates came together to call for Senators Burr and Tillis to act this week.

“Without the additional $600 federal supplement, I would not have been able to pay rent, utilities, food, or medical expenses. I live alone and have no family to fall back on,” said Phyllis, a worker from Wilson who spoke on the call. “The supplemental benefits have literally been a lifeline.”

“Each week that Congress fails to act, North Carolina will lose $364 million in income that could be working to stabilize household budgets — ensuring rent is paid and shopping at local grocery stores continues — and in turn [stabilize] businesses and the economy,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Our North Carolina Senators should recognize that workers are the economy and failing to act will only serve to delay our recovery from the COVID-19 recession we are all in.”