It’s summertime in North Carolina. The weather is improving, COVID cases are declining, students have finished their school years, our favorite bars and restaurants are finally ready to open but are unable to fill critical positions on their staff.

You don’t have to look far to see short-handed small businesses with “Help Wanted” signs in the window. Recent jobs reports came in dramatically under projections and unemployment has risen despite the removal of capacity limits and social distancing requirements for businesses in North Carolina.

Employers have raised wages and are offering additional incentives but are still unable to find workers.  The sobering truth is that able-bodied workers are staying home where they can receive more money under federal unemployment benefits.

To address this growing issue, I took up Senate Bill 116. The bill would return unemployment benefits to pre-COVID levels, removing the federally funded incentive to stay home. Workers have also cited childcare concerns as the reason why they haven’t returned to the workforce. This is a legitimate concern for families.

That’s why the House approved Speaker Tim Moore’s amendment to the bill that would add over $250 million to existing childcare assistance programs. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between a paycheck and supervision for their children. Students will be returning to the classroom for in-person instruction this Fall and by then, childcare should return to where it was before COVID.

Lawmakers have had to make some quick decisions to address the impact of COVID-19. Last year, the General Assembly passed multiple major relief packages to address needs in North Carolina that arose because of COVID-19. Congress passed the CARES Act and the American Recovery Plan which sent billions in aid to North Carolina.

Temporary measures to increase unemployment payments were taken to ensure workers could make ends meet until they were able to return to work. With vaccines widely available and COVID cases falling every day, that time is now.

There is dignity in work, and we need all able North Carolinians to return to the workforce and help our businesses serve the community. This important piece of legislation will help boost our economy and get businesses back up to speed after a difficult year.

Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, represents the 97th State House District in the North Carolina General Assembly and serves as a Senior Chair of the House Appropriations Committee.