(Winston-Salem Journal) - State Republican legislative leaders proposed Friday a $50 a week increase in unemployment insurance benefits to North Carolinians through the end of the year.
The benefits are drawn mostly by people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The recommendation from Sens. Chuck Edwards of Buncombe and Paul Newton of Cabarrus comes as the GOP-controlled legislature prepares for the next phase of the 2020 session that begins Wednesday.
The session's main focus will be on allocating the remaining portions of the $3.5 billion the state received from the federal CARES Act funding. The majority of those funds were dedicated in late March.
"With a high unemployment rate, it's not easy for someone who loses a job to go out and quickly find another one," Edwards and Newton said in a joint statement.
The state's jobless rate was 8.5% in July, up from 7.5% in June, but down from 12.8% in May.
"Recognizing that reality, Republicans in the House and Senate support boosting assistance for every unemployment insurance recipient by more than $200 per month," the senators said.
The GOP proposal "is a positive step in that there is an acknowledgement from Republican leadership that something has to be done now to boost support for affected North Carolinians," said Bill Rowe, deputy director of advocacy at the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.
The maximum weekly benefit amount has been $350 since July 2013, when a GOP super-majority lowered it from $535 as part of its strategy for paying off a $2.8 billion debt to the U.S. Labor and Treasury departments.
The average approved North Carolina UI claimant currently receives $278 a week. The extra $50 a week would boost the payment by 18%.