North Carolina Workers Suffer As Unemployment Aid Is Riddled With Dysfunction And Delays

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.”

Under Governor Cooper North Carolina Was Ranked As The Worst State In The Nation For Distributing Unemployment Benefits In A Timely Manner

Carolina Journal Headline: “N.C. Ranks Last At Getting Unemployment Payments To Applicants On Time”

  • Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic, North Carolina Ranked Dead Last In The Country For Timely Unemployment Benefits. “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… 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.” (Nate Morabito, “NC Ranks Worst In Country For Timely Unemployment Payments,” WCNC, 6/3/20)
  • A State Audit Found That In 2019 The North Carolina Department Of Commerce Overpaid Unemployment Benefits And That The State Was Unable To Properly Track Disbursements. “The WCNC CharlotteDefenders team is revealing past problems with North Carolina’s unemployment system. It comes as the North Carolina Department of Commerce is under scrutiny for how it handled a surge of claims during the coronavirus pandemic… Now, the Defenders team is learning a state audit found a different issue with the unemployment system just last year. Specifically, the audit found the department was unable to properly track people who were being overpaid with their benefits… While some people have been unable to get paid, others were overpaid just last year. According to a state audit of the fiscal year 2019, ‘the primary cause of overpayments is due to unreported or under-reported earnings by claimants while they claim benefits.’” (Alex Shabad, “’To Me, It’s Incompetence’ | As Some Struggle To Get Unemployment Benefits, State Audit Shows Others Were Overpaid Last Year,” WCNC, 7/8/20)

Cooper’s Attempts To Address Flaws In North Carolina’s Unemployment Failed

The Charlotte Observer Editorial Board: “NC Unemployment Delays Have Been A Disaster. Own It, Gov. Cooper”

  • The Editorial Board Noted That Hundreds Of Thousands Of North Carolinians Were Not Receiving Their Unemployment Benefits, And That The System Was A “Disaster.” “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.”
  • Editorial Board: Cooper Needs To “Own” The “Crisis” With Unemployment Benefits At The DES. “Cooper has a crisis within a crisis with the mess at DES, and he needs to do more than tell officials to move faster. He should explain regularly to North Carolinians how his administration is taking the lead in addressing the claims backlog, and how it’s going to provide staff who can meaningfully help the tens of thousands of people calling with questions each day.”

WCNC Headline: “Despite Adding 2,500 Employees, DES Continues To Fail Unemployed”

  • Over 100,000 Unemployment Claims Were “Pending Resolution,” And Calls Were Being Ignored For Up To Six Weeks Despite An Expanded Staff. “From hanging up on callers to telling them one thing and then doing another, the North Carolina Division of Employment Security continues to fail some of the state’s unemployed. As of July 27, a combined 107,000 claims remained “pending resolution” for state or federal benefits, according to DES. Some of those people have waited for months… According to DES, employees are supposed to note when a claim is escalated, but escalation does not mean ‘there will be an immediate resolution.’ Instead, a spokesperson said escalation helps direct the claim to a staff member who can help. One agent said escalation can take six weeks to result in a callback.”
  • North Carolinians Who Attempted To File For Unemployment Have Complained About False Promises And Frequent Hang Ups. “They have told me time and time again that they’re escalating my claim, but then nothing gets resolved,’ Davidovicz said. ‘They tell me they don’t see any notes on there that it’s been escalated, so I’m questioning if they even are being truthful when they’re telling me they’re escalating my claim.’ … Even so, Kyle Benjamin, who has waited months to receive his benefits, told us he’s often hung up on when he calls. ‘Yea, I have a question about my pandemic unemployment application,’ Benjamin said during a July call to the DES helpline. ‘I can’t hear you,’ the agent responded before muttering something and hanging up.”

The Cooper Administration Has Made It Difficult For Some North Carolinians To Obtain Unemployment Benefits

An Army Veteran Turned School Bus Driver Was Forced To Wait Up To Eight Weeks For Her Appeal To Be Heard On Her Unemployment Benefits Claim Due To A Simple Error. “A simple error on her unemployment application resulted in a major setback for a longtime Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus driver. Katie Harris, an Army veteran, waited five weeks for the state to deny her claim and recently learned she’ll have to wait up to another eight weeks for her appeal to be heard… ‘We shouldn’t have to go through this,’ Harris said. ‘I still work for a living. I’m not asking nobody to give me nothing I don’t think I deserve.’ Harris has remained out of work since March, but while fellow CMS school bus drivers have successfully filed and received their benefits, she remains at a standstill, waiting on more than $5,000.” (Nate Morabito, “She Waited Five Weeks For Unemployment To Be Denied, Now She Has To Wait Eight More For An Appeal,” WCNC, 7/29/20)

A Worker Was Denied Unemployment Benefits Despite Her Co-Workers On The Same Furlough Receiving Benefits. “A Charlotte woman said she waited nearly two months on her unemployment only to be denied by North Carolina because she wasn’t diagnosed with COVID-19, all while her coworkers who were furloughed at the same time, received benefits…The state’s letter to Moronta said she was denied because she never had coronavirus, but that didn’t make sense to her because that’s not why she applied for unemployment in the first place. Her coworkers got a very different response and some of them received benefits from the same furlough order… According to the letter from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, she was denied benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. The letter says she was ineligible because she was not diagnosed with COVID-19. ‘Never did I put on my claim that I was furloughed or laid off due to having COVID, it was because of the pandemic, so I’m confused on that part,’ Moronta said. While Moronta was denied, her coworkers were granted benefits.” (Alex Shabad, “Woman Questions Why She Was Denied, While Her Co-Workers Were Granted Unemployment Benefits From The Same Furlough,” WCNC, 7/28/20)