Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Friday that would have ended $300 in extra weekly federal unemployment benefits in North Carolina. The bill also would have tightened job search requirements to continue collecting unemployment.
North Carolina would have joined 25 other states in cutting off the federal unemployment supplement. Other states have cited labor shortages as the reason for ending federal benefits.
Senate Bill 116, “Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act,” passed the Senate with a vote of 26-22 and the House by 66-44. Three Democrats voted in favor of it in the House, and none in the Senate.
The most recent Civitas Poll found that 61% of North Carolinians supported ending the extra federal unemployment payments, and 57% believed that the federal supplement provides an incentive to remain unemployed. The poll was conducted by Cygnal for the John Locke Foundation, surveying 600 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4%.
“It’s a shame to see Gov. Cooper incentivize people not to work instead of addressing our state’s severe labor shortage,” said bill sponsor, Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson. “With the pandemic largely behind us, thousands of jobs are waiting to be filled, but this veto ensures that ‘Help Wanted’ signs will remain up for months to come and more jobs will be sent to other countries where our manufacturers can find the work force they need.”
In his veto message, Cooper said that he rejected S.B. 116 because North Carolina’s existing unemployment benefits are “among the stingiest in the country.”
“Prematurely stopping these benefits hurts our state by sending back money that could be injected into our economy with people using it for things like food and rent,” Cooper’s office released in a press statement. “I support strong efforts to make more quality childcare available and to provide businesses with funds for hiring bonuses, and the bill falls short on both of these.”
The extra payments were part of the federal benefits enacted because of the economic impact of COVID-19 shutdowns. North Carolina has seen an economic recovery since most businesses were allowed to reopen and operate at nearly normal capacity. Small businesses, particularly restaurants, have reported difficulty finding enough help to resume normal hours.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, called the veto “shortsighted.” He said S.B. 116 made overall reforms to the unemployment program, including tightening work-search requirements. The bill also appropriated $250 million in child care assistance for eligible children.
“Once again, Governor Cooper has vetoed common-sense legislation that passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support,” Moore released in a statement on Friday. “S.B. 116 would have made unemployment benefits nontaxable income and withdrawn our state from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Agreement (FPUC).”
To continue on unemployment, job seekers would have had to accept a job if it paid at least 120% of weekly unemployment benefits. S.B. 116 also would have required those seeking unemployment assistance to respond to a job interview offer within 48 hours, and to show up for job interviews.
Cooper has vetoed four bills this year and 57 bills since taking office in 2017. Lawmakers have voted to override 23 of those vetoes. They have not been able to secure enough votes for a successful override since December 2018.