There is simply no excuse for this draconian behavior:
It started in 2013 when, just after securing the governorship on top of both houses, the GOP supermajority passed HB4, a bill that made unprecedented cuts to unemployment compensation.
The bill lowered the maximum weekly payment amount from $535 to $350 and completely eliminated state appropriations for unemployment program administration, forcing the program to rely on declining federal funds. As a result, staff time designated to processing initial claims dropped by more than half from 2005 to 2020.
Get that? All these delays in processing the mountain of unemployment claims caused by the pandemic can (and should) be laid at the feet of Legislative Republicans. All this time they've been pointing a finger at Governor Cooper, they should have been pointing it at themselves. That's actually a question I've been trying to answer for a couple months, but I've been approaching it wrong. I looked at budgets going back five years to see if I could find a drop in funding, and couldn't seem to find said line items at all. That's because they're gone, and have been since 2013. Tens of thousands of North Carolinians have suffered because of that, and most of them blame the Cooper administration:
Lawrence was laid off on March 19, and filed for unemployment the same day — one of almost 1.2 million North Carolinians who have applied for unemployment benefits since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Her first unemployment check didn’t arrive until mid-May.
“By this time, rent was due,” Lawrence said. “By the time I got unemployment, I was so overwhelmed because now my bills are behind. I’m struggling, going from food bank to food bank.”
As a former manufacturing manager, I understand all too well the difficulty in "ramping up" production at the drop of a hat. New workers need to be trained by experienced ones, and trying to increase your staff by more than 10% will cause a temporary drop in production until those new people are up to speed. Thanks to Republicans, the needed increase in UI claims processors was much higher than that, and no matter how much money you throw at the problem, it won't solve it quickly.
But having an "efficient" unemployment claims process was (is?) exactly the opposite of what Republicans wanted:
The state lags behind the recommended standard of replacing half of lost wages. In North Carolina, the average weekly benefit was $264.70 in the 3rd quarter of 2019, the 10th lowest in the country, according to the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for economic security for low-wage workers.
The percentage of North Carolina’s unemployed workers receiving unemployment benefits plummeted to 9.1% in 2019 — the lowest in the United States, dropping as low as 8.3% in the third quarter.
HB4 also cut the benefit duration from the previous standard of 26 weeks to a range of 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate, with the 20-week maximum only kicking in when the rate reaches 9%. The typical worker’s unemployment period is 21.4 weeks nationally.
In the last couple of months, several NCGA Republicans made some noises about fixing some of the problems they had created. But that's all it was, noise. Federal benefits have expired, and NC's unemployed are falling off the same cliff they did in 2013, and every year since. We've never been able to trust Republicans to do what's right, and now we know that even a pandemic won't change that.