By David Bass
Some Republican members of the N.C. Council of State used a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 3, to underscore the challenges employers face in finding workers because, at least in part, of generous unemployment benefit payments from the federal government.
“I’m sounding the alarm because we’re in an employment crisis in North Carolina,” said Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican. “We’re facing double jeopardy here in many instances, where we’re taking money from businesses and making them pay for a system that prevents them from hiring individuals.
“This is no longer about generosity. It’s about justice,” Folwell said.
In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly have pushed to withdraw North Carolina from extended federal unemployment benefits — part of COVID-19 emergency relief spending. Those benefits are set to expire Sept. 6, but there’s still a chance Congress will, in fact, extend them.
Republicans have warned the extra $300-a-week is discouraging workers from returning to the labor force, putting a pinch on businesses across North Carolina.
The state House and Senate passed a measure — Senate Bill 116 — along party lines to withdraw the state from the federal benefits, but Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed it. The Senate also passed a bill that would give a $1,500 bonus to each unemployed worker who gets a job.
Folwell clashed directly with Cooper over adding an item to the agenda to discuss the employment crisis. Folwell tried to make that motion, and Cooper blocked it.
“Mr. Treasurer, it’s important that members of the state council get notice of this,” Cooper said. “This is why we create an agenda. So, I’m not going to recognize that motion at this time.
“Governor, I believe this is a public board and we have our governance and rules of order regarding governing boards,” Folwell replied. “So, you’re not recognizing adding employment crisis item to the agenda of the Council of State?”
“That is correct,” Cooper responded.
“On what basis?” Folwell asked.
“On the basis that it was not submitted to us and it’s not on the agenda,” Cooper said. “If we start that, then we’ve got significant problems. You particularly like to do a lot of research on these issues, and members of the Council of State appreciate that and a heads up and notice. So, we’re just not going to hear that today.”
Republicans voice concerns
Despite Cooper’s efforts, several members of the Council of State voiced concerns about the employment crisis during the board’s roundtable discussion later in the meeting.
“It’s a real crisis. It’s something we need to look at as elected officials,” said Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, a Republican.
“We can’t expand economically if we don’t have a strong work ethic in this state,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. “We can’t do that if folks feel like they have an out in going to work. We can’t allow the federal government to bribe people to stay at home. I would hope that you, governor, would take this issue up to ensure that North Carolina protects itself from (this) happening in the future.”
Said Folwell, “What’s so concerning to people of all races, all creeds, and all colors across North Carolina who are saying the same thing: That is that they cannot continue to pay into a system that forces them to compete against other federal benefits by taxing them and the workers who are there and use that money to pay those who aren’t working.”
Cooper’s rejoinder was that the federal benefits will extend in just over four weeks. He criticized North Carolina’s existing unemployment compensation program as “one of the shortest and stingiest” in the country.
“I’m pleased that the unemployment rate continues to drop and that jobs are created at a record pace in our state,” Cooper said.