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NC Unemployment Claims Top 450,000

Empty Blount Street in downtown Raleigh
Jason deBruyn

The state has distributed nearly $29 million in unemployment benefits since the coronavirus outbreak began. Governor Roy Cooper says the money has gone to more than 110,000 people who filed jobless claims in the last three weeks. 

But those applying for help continue to grow. As of Tuesday morning, more than 450,000 North Carolinians had applied for unemployment benefits with the state since mid-March, according to figures provided by the Division of Employment Security.

In other words - more than 11% of the state's entire labor force has lost work in less than a month.

Daily initial unemployment claims through April 5.
Credit N.C. Department of Commerce
Daily initial unemployment claims through April 5.

The deluge of applications has flooded the division, even as it is adding 350 workers to help file claims, according to Lockhart Taylor, the assistant secretary for Employment Security for the N.C. Department of Commerce.

"And we continue to try to set a level of expectation that we will be responsive, but I have to tell you it has just been overwhelming," he said.

Federal unemployment aid is coming – and for some it could mean an additional $600 per week through July. However, for others like independent contractors, sole proprietors and the self-employed it will be weeks before the state can begin to review their applications for assistance. 

Those kinds of workers are not eligible under North Carolina's existing rules, and the state is working to adhere to federal guidance. Taylor says it's going to take more time for the state to work through those applications.

"Making sure that an individual who is self-employed has a legitimate business. That they have registered. And that they have been up and running. And that they didn't just start it two weeks ago," he said.

North Carolina is receiving relief money from the federal government to help assist people who have lost their jobs or seen a reduction in hours. At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak North Carolina had nearly $4 billion in an unemployment trust fund. That took years to save, and could be exhausted in a matter of months.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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