RALEIGH – In an effort to avoid calamity, leaders across the State of North Carolina have produced another different calamity that might just snuff it out the first. Maybe. Call it fighting fire with fire, or call it a shame, the unemployment office calls it historic.
Between March 2 and April 1, more than 350,000 North Carolinians filed claims for unemployment benefit and approximately 85 percent of them (309,000) identified the coronavirus mayhem as related to their new jobless status. And it is accelerating; the difference from this past week (171K) versus the week before that (71K) was a whopping 82 percent.
An official with the Department of Employment Security, assistant secretary Lockhart Taylor, put it another way during a press briefing on Thursday:
“To put that in perspective, that averages almost 1,000 claims an hour, 24 hours a day for the last 14 days.”
The closures associated with COVID-19 aimed at preventing the healthcare systems from being overwhelmed have, in turn, overwhelmed the states unemployment benefit systems with a tidal wave of filings stemming from shutdown policies. Governor Cooper announced they have added a whole additional call center just to handle the increased volume in claims, but websites and offices are still swamped.
There is also confusion surrounding expanded federal benefits as part of the gargantuan $2 trillion CARES Act, which workers qualify and which don’t. North Carolina’s average unemployment claim pay out is lower than in some other states, but the conservative debt-elimination policies that limit maximum benefits and duration also leave the state with a $4 billion surplus in unemployment funds. State lawmakers could change the parameters during the upcoming legislative session as part of releif bills the General Assembly is expected to consider.
Another consideration would be to withdraw many of the blanket shutdowns with inconsistent lists of exempted businesses, and instead focus on limiting the most dangerous interactions while allowing the rest of the economy is responsibly
operate survive under this new normal.