With millions of North Carolinians out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Roy Cooper failed to deliver much-needed unemployment assistance to those struggling to make ends meet through no fault of their own.
North Carolina workers could not count on the Cooper administration to distribute unemployment benefits in a timely manner; in fact, for an extended period of time North Carolina was ranked worst in the nation in getting unemployment benefits to those who applied on time. Rather than solving the problems within the state’s unemployment system, Cooper took the half-baked, patchwork approach that has become a hallmark of his governorship.
Cooper failed, and for his failure, many North Carolinians suffered in what has been termed “the worst state in the US for unemployed people.” The light at the end of the tunnel for struggling families is extremely dim as problems and delays continue to persist and Cooper continues to make it harder for out-of-work residents to find jobs by enacting some of the country’s most restrictive COVID-19 policies for businesses.
“Governor Cooper’s inability to get timely help to North Carolinians who lost their jobs through no fault of their own is a massive failure with lasting consequences at this critical time,” said RGA Communications Director Amelia Chassé Alcivar. “Once again, when North Carolina needed competent, reliable, and compassionate leadership the most, they couldn’t count on Roy Cooper.”
The Charlotte Observer editorial board noted back in May:
North Carolina’s unemployment system is a disaster right now. Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t getting their benefits. They’ve waited as long as two months instead of the two weeks that’s typical. They’re getting little to no information from the state unemployment office, and their governor is not doing a whole lot better.
At a news conference last week, Roy Cooper said he knows N.C. families need help and doesn’t think the state unemployment office has done enough. “I am pushing them to move faster,” the governor said. That’s a little too close to blame shifting for North Carolinians who desperately need their benefits. The governor needs to own this problem, address it, and fix it.
But this also is true: People in North Carolina don’t want excuses or care how other states are doing. They need money to pay bills and housing costs, to put food on the table. At the least, they need to know what’s going on. In North Carolina, communication is sparse and it’s too difficult to get a human on the phone. “AND, it’s not enough to just answer the phone,” N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg Democrat, said in an email to constituents Sunday. “They have to make sure the person who answers can actually help. And that’s been an issue.”
This is an unprecedented problem, but not one that was unanticipated. The governor needs to own it, now.
And in June, WCNC reported:
As more than 325,000 people out of work in North Carolina continue to wait for their unemployment benefits, federal data show North Carolina ranked worst in the country for fulfilling timely unemployment claims before the COVID-19 pandemic and still remains at the bottom today.
The North Carolina Division of Employment Security tells claimants if there are no issues, "people typically receive payment within about 14 days of filing their initial claim."
However, United States Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance Performance Management data show North Carolina scored the lowest rating for first payment time-lapse 14/21 days in the country at the end of 2019 and for the first three months of 2020.
Even as the state slightly improved its rating in the first quarter of 2020, in both cases, the state's ratings are well below the national average.