Unemployment Insurance (CARES Act)

State Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance provides regular payments to individuals in North Carolina who are unemployed due to no fault of their own, have earned sufficient wages to establish a claim, and are able, available, and actively seeking work. Below is a brief explanation of federal and state responses to rising unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic including Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders affecting unemployment insurance, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The average amount and duration of North Carolina’s unemployment benefits is among the lowest in the nation. The maximum weekly benefit available in North Carolina is $350. Currently, benefits may be received for a maximum of 12 weeks. For more information about general eligibility requirements, visit the NC Division of Employment Security (DES) website.

On March 19, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 118 to address rising unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The Executive Order expands unemployment insurance eligibility to include workers who are laid off or have their hours reduced because of COVID-19. Pursuant to this order, the DES waived several requirements relating to state unemployment insurance claims including: (1) the one-week waiting period normally required following the filing of a claim, (2) the requirement that an individual be able and available for other work in order to receive benefits, and (3) the requirement that an individual actively seek other work in order to receive unemployment insurance.

Individuals may file for unemployment insurance through the DES website, or by calling the Customer Call Center at (888)-737-0259. As the DES is experiencing a high volume of claims, it is recommended that applicants use the online application system during non-business hours.

On April 9, 2020, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order 131, which, among other things, relaxes requirements for employers to file “attached claims” for employees who may be affected by COVID-19. An attached claim is a claim filed by an employer on behalf of an employee who has been temporarily laid off or who has worked less than 60% of their customary scheduled full-time hours. More information on how employers can file attached claims is available here.

Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Image Source: NC Division of Employment Security, COVID-19 UI Information, https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-nc-unemployment-insurance-information

On March 27, 2020, the federal CARES Act was signed into law. The CARES Act creates three new federally-funded unemployment insurance programs. Workers can apply for these benefits through the state DES office as discussed above.

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) provides individuals with a $600 flat amount in addition to any regular unemployment insurance benefits, including partial unemployment benefits. PUC assistance is available through July 31, 2020.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides an additional 13 weeks of state unemployment insurance benefits. These benefits become available after an individual exhausts their regular state unemployment insurance benefits.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance for workers typically left out of state unemployment insurance programs, or for those who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance benefits. For example, self-employed workers, independent contractors, freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for state benefits may be eligible for PUA benefits.

Applicants for PUA benefits must be either partially or fully unemployed, or unable and unavailable to work because: (1) they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms and are seeking diagnosis, (2) a member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19, (3) they are providing care for a child or household member who can’t attend school or work because of COVID-19, (4) they have been quarantined or advised by a medical professional to self-quarantine, (5) they were scheduled to start work and do not have a job because of the COVID-19 outbreak, (6) they had to become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19, (7) their place of employment is closed as a result of COVID-19, or (8) they meet other criteria as established by the Secretary of Labor. PUA claimants will also be eligible to receive the weekly $600 PUC amount. The PUA program expires on December 31, 2020.