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Cooper restores work-search requirement for unemployed workers

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

By Nyamekye Daniel

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(The Center Square) – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Friday to restore the state’s work-search requirement for unemployment benefits.

Cooper had waived the requirement last year to help workers laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He restored the mandate in March but only for new unemployment claimants. Republicans sent a letter to Cooper on Friday, urging him to fully reinstate the policy in light of staff shortages at North Carolina businesses.

“As our state emerges from the pandemic, we want to help people safely return to work as soon as possible,” Cooper said in a statement. “Reinstating the work search guidelines will help connect claimants with employers, resources and tools to help them return to the workforce.”

Cooper’s order will require unemployed workers to contact at least three employers a week in order to continue receiving jobless benefits. Workers can substitute other reemployment activities offered by the state’s career center or partnering agencies. Each claimant also must register on the state’s workforce system, NCWorks, which would allow them to search and apply for jobs, complete training and obtain other employment resources. The order will take effect June 6.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate has decreased by 8.5 percentage points since April 2020 – the peak of unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cooper ordered most businesses closed at the end of March 2020, pushing the unemployment rate to 13.5%.

Cooper lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last week, giving businesses more flexibility to operate.

Businesses now, however, face the strain of operating short-staffed. North Carolina restaurants are down about 70,000 workers – or 17% of the industry’s workforce – compared with before the pandemic, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association reported.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Division of Employment Security has issued more than $11.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits since March 15, 2020.

Cooper’s order also directs the Department of Commerce to use federal funds to create a reemployment incentive program for jobless workers. 

Senate Republicans unveiled a proposal Thursday that would provide $1,500 or $800 bonus payments for unemployed workers to return to work. The measure also would penalize workers for not following up on job opportunities or corresponding activities.

“This is welcome news. We appreciate the governor taking this common-sense step,” House Majority Leader John Bell IV, R-Wayne, said in a statement Friday. “However, we must continue to look for ways to get people off unemployment and back to work.”

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