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Letter: Tell lawmakers to change unemployment benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a harsh truth about changes made to our state’s Unemployment Insurance system in 2013 — changes that were sponsored by Rep. Harry Warren and upheld by others.

North Carolina’s benefits are among the very worst in the nation. Now is not the time to play party politics. Lawmakers should reconsider those changes and immediately pass legislation to ensure that our state’s system will help workers and their families weather this crisis.

We need them to stop sitting idly by and step up, following Gov. Roy Cooper’s lead, to bring relief to workers in need.

There are several steps they can take to assist workers and improve the system, including a return to 26 maximum weeks of benefits (as Georgia lawmakers just did), change the formula used to calculate benefits, increase the maximum weekly benefit amount and index it to wages and restore eligibility for unemployment caused by health reasons and family hardship.

Increasing the maximum dollar amount of benefits is especially crucial. Ideally, unemployment insurance benefits should replace half of laid-off workers’ wages. Prior to 2013, North Carolina had a weekly wage replacement rate of 36.5 percent, ranking 25th nationally. The current maximum fixed benefit of $350 per week, the lowest in the nation, puts laid-off workers in our state at a severe disadvantage as they try to make ends meet during an unemployment crisis. Because of the way benefits have been calculated since 2013, most workers receive nowhere near the maximum.

It’s time to contact our lawmakers to let them know we need action on unemployment benefits so no worker is left behind by our pandemic response efforts. I encourage readers to go to NCleg.gov, find out who represents you, and email them today.

— Corey Hill

Salisbury

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