State officials have approved nearly $30 million in unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs due to the covid-19 outbreak. In the three weeks since Governor Roy Cooper’s orders saw businesses close due to the novel coronavirus, an average of 21,000 people a day have filed claims. That’s according to Lockhart Taylor who leads North Carolina’s unemployment office. At the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment office was handling around 100,000 unemployment claims per month. Now, the state is getting more than that every week. The state is on track to surpass 500,000 jobless claims by the end of the week. Taylor says $28.6 million has been paid out to 110,000 claims so far. Nationwide, there have been a record 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid.
In addition to state money, once federal benefits start getting processed, there should be millions more dollars pouring into North Carolina for financial assistance. The federal benefits include an extra $600 per week which is more than double the state’s weekly payments. President Donald Trump recently signed the CARES act into law which expanded on unemployment benefits for Americans out of work. The benefits of $600 a week are for up to four months. According to the state’s unemployment website, they are currently testing their system and anticipate making the first payments by April 17.
On Thursday, Governor Cooper announced an executive order that allows changes to the unemployment process. He said the order will make it easier for employers to file a batch of claims on behalf of their employees known as “attached claims.” State officials believe this will help eliminate the issues that are keeping people from getting approved.
Independent contractors, freelancers, and those self-employed are usually not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, workers who fall into this category may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) which is available as a result of coronavirus. The Division of Employment Services received guidelines from the federal government on how to implement the PUA benefits on Sunday and hopes to have the system ready to accept those claims for financial assistance “around April 25.” That’s according to the DES website.
Complaints about the long wait times have been widely reported. Lockhart Taylor says there have been complaints about people calling and being hung up on due to the high number of calls. On a recent day, he says the office received more than a quarter of a million phone calls. Taylor hopes providing information on the website will alleviate the frustrations of callers.
To apply for unemployment benefits or to find out more information about qualifications you can go to des.nc.gov
As of this writing, Mecklenburg County has more than 860 coronavirus cases with 10 deaths. You can stay up-to-date with the county by county numbers here.