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Bill that would give $1,500 bonuses to people who return to work approved by North Carolina Senate

RALEIGH -- Giving bonuses to North Carolina's unemployment benefit recipients who get a job soon would help both business struggling to fill vacancies and residents who need a nudge to return to work, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday.

The state Senate voted 35-10 for legislation that would provide $1,500 to people who accept reemployment within 30 days of the bonus program starting. The bonus would drop to $800 if they begin employment on or after 30 days but before 60 days.

The bonuses would come from federal funds that have raised individual unemployment benefits by $300 per week during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the one-time payments won't happen unless the U.S. Department of Labor allows the state to use the money that way. That can't occur unless Congress first passes its own law permitting such use, said Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican and chief proponent of the bill.

Edwards said he's worried the supplemental benefits on top of state payments are acting as a disincentive for people to return to work at a time when the economy is ready to surge as the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and employers can't attract applicants.

"I'm not going to analyze the precise cause and effect, but let's face it, it is easier to not work than it is to work," Edwards said. "I believe there is a percentage of the population that's gotten comfortable and gotten out of the habit of looking for a job ... and it's going to take something to energize them."

The bill now goes to the House, which hasn't yet voted on such a measure.

About half of the states already are now refusing the $300-a-week benefits. Edwards said North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has shown no interest in doing the same thing, leading to the Senate GOP's bonus proposal. Cooper did restore work search requirements.

Edwards' bill, which also places additional job interview requirements upon current beneficiaries, passed the chamber after GOP members blocked votes on two Democratic amendments. One would have increased the maximum number of weeks for unemployment benefits and the maximum weekly payment. The other would have raised the state's minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15.