As hundreds of protesters marched on the capital to contest statewide stay-at-home orders, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the next steps in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak, including a new executive order to help those out of work. 

Furloughed workers who’ve received severance payments will be eligible for unemployment benefits, Cooper said during the Tuesday, April 21, news conference. 

The announcement is the latest in a series of orders responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. A few of those orders waived requirements for unemployment benefits to help the thousands left without work due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. More than 600,000 people have filed for unemployment since March, and the number continues to grow. 

Payments are slowly trickling out to applicants, prompting criticism the system is overwhelmed. The Division of Employment Security continues to make improvements but more work is needed, the governor said. 

A budget proposal is in the works to address the viral outbreak, Cooper said. The governor’s administration is working with the General Assembly to come to an agreement on what items critically need more money. 

More information will be revealed later this week, Cooper said, but the proposal includes money for immediate health and safety needs, schools and other core government services, and small businesses and local government assistance.

The governor addressed the growing number of people pushing the state to ease restrictions and reopen the economy, but he urged North Carolinians to continue staying home as much as possible. 

“I know many people are frustrated, restless, anxious, and eager to get back to work and school,” Cooper said. “And I know many people want to make sure their families are as safe as possible from this virus.”

The governor didn’t explain what specific metrics the state needs to meet before restrictions can be eased, but he did say more details will be announced later in the week. 

It will be a few days before the state decides whether its stay-at-home order will be extended past the April 29 expiration date, Cooper said.