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Cooper vetoes bill that would have stopped additional federal unemployment benefits

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Friday that would have ended additional federal benefits created during the pandemic for North Carolina’s unemployed before the program expires nationwide. His action counters trends by Republican governors to no longer accept the supplemental payments.

Cooper said he blocked the measure originating from the GOP-controlled legislature because rejecting these federal funds now hurts the state.

“Unemployment is declining with more people getting vaccinated and into the workforce as North Carolina has strengthened work search requirements for those receiving benefits,” Cooper said in a statement. “The federal help that this bill cuts off will only last a few more weeks and it supplements North Carolina’s state benefits, which 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 said he supports efforts to make more quality childcare available and give businesses funds for hiring bonuses and the bill fell short on both of those.

The legislation would have done away with the $300-a-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit for at least 200,000 displaced workers in the state. That’s on top of their other state or federal aid. A $100-a-week additional payment for self-employed workers also would end if the bill became law.

The measure also contained $250 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid designed to eliminate the individual waiting list for government subsidies for child care. Inaccessibility to child care is considered an obstacle for women to return to work. The bill also would require unemployment benefit recipients to respond to interview requests and participate in order to retain weekly benefits.

Cooper had until late Sunday to veto the bill or sign it into law. Otherwise, it would have become law without his signature.

Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican who helped shepherd the benefits bill, expressed his disappointment with Cooper’s veto.

“It’s a shame to see Gov. Cooper incentivize people not to work instead of addressing our state’s severe labor shortage,” Edwards said in a statement. “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 workforce they need.”

Both benefit programs already are set to expire nationwide Sept. 4, and the North Carolina legislation directed the state to stop administering payments about 30 days after the bill became law. So only about a month of the enhanced benefits would be eliminated.

Governors in 26 states — all but one of them Republicans — have agreed to end the benefits early, affecting more than 4.7 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project. In North Carolina, it was the Republican-controlled legislature that acted.

All Senate Democrats and all but three House Democrats voted against the measure. That signals enough support for Cooper to ensure his veto would be upheld.

Even if Republicans could obtain the votes necessary for an override, any such action would not occur until at least the week of July 12, since lawmakers are not holding floor sessions next week for the July 4 holiday. So only two or three weeks of supplemental benefits would end up getting canceled.

GOP legislators who passed the bill last week said they were responding to business owners having a hard time filling vacancies, and consider the extra benefits a disincentive to return to the workforce. The North Carolina Chamber had urged Cooper to sign the bill.

Bill opponents said eliminating the benefits would harm people still struggling in a post-pandemic economy. The $300 benefit equates to at least $60 million entering the state’s economy each week.

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