RALEIGH — Giving bonuses to North Carolina’s unemployment benefit recipients who get a job soon would help both businesses 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.
“We would offer a $1,500 bonus for folks to rejoin the workforce if they were to do that within the next 30 days, or an $800 bonus if they rejoin the workforce in the next 60 days,” Edwards said.
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.
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U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., who attended a Legislative Building news conference with Edwards on Tuesday, has filed a bill in Congress that would offer $900 bonuses nationwide to displaced workers who get hired. Unlike Edwards’ bill, the supplemental weekly benefits also would be eliminated at the same time under Budd’s bill. Those benefits are already due to run out in early September.
Budd, who is also a 2022 Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said displaced workers have many job options to earn more than they did before COVID-19.
“We understand the hardship that people have had,” Budd said. “But there’s nothing to replace the dignity of actual work and improving oneself to earn more opportunities.”
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.
‘We’re hiring for every spot’
As countless businesses recover from the pandemic, signs are posted all over uptown letting people know work is available if they want it.
Brandon hicks, the kitchen manager at uptown’s mellow mushroom, said he’s on a quest to find people as passionate as he is about making pizzas.
“We’re hiring for every spot,” he told Channel 9. “Hosts, servers, we’re looking for back of the house pizza makers and salad hoagie people.”
Since Gov. Cooper relaxed COVID restrictions, Hicks and his team are struggling to keep up with customer demand. It doesn’t help that he’s not fully staffed.
“Some people would say they would come and then they wouldn’t, just a lot of that,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he’s not concerned about high turnover. In fact, he thinks it could be just the nudge people need.
“Usually, people with a good work ethic want to work,” he told Channel 9.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
(WATCH: SC cuts federal unemployment boost from weekly payments)
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