While your North Carolina General Assembly is not technically in session, it doesn’t mean that no work is going on to attack the COVID 19 virus situation. Even as the members practice social distancing, we are in constant contact with each other, with state resources such as Emergency Management and Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and with local resources such as Brunswick’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Conference calls among these groups are happening every day. Our leaders in Raleigh are working with the Governor, and issuing suggestions for social distancing and how to recognize symptoms and get tested. I am talking daily with commissioners and mayors about their local issues and how they relate to the state. Most of our local leaders and town managers are very experienced and already have many issues well handled.
Attacking the Health and Economic crises: Our House leadership is also developing strategies to deal with the health and economic hardships our citizens are facing. The Speaker has established four bipartisan working groups of House members. They are in four areas: Healthcare, Economic Support, Education, and Continuity of State Operations. As of Sunday, we are waiting for the schedule of meeting times, the sooner the better.
Unemployment Insurance: In the area of economic support and unemployment insurance, North Carolina is well prepared to meet the unemployment situation. In 2017, the General Assembly changed the law to allow that in a declared emergency the requirement to wait a week to apply is waived, as well as the requirement to be looking for a job. After inheriting a nearly $3 billion debt to the Federal government in the unemployment insurance fund, we reformed the system and paid off the debt from 2011 – 2015. All employers got a 20% surcharge break at that point. Since 2015, the fund has grown to a nearly $3.9 billion reserve, all of which is available to meet the rush of unemployment claims that are expected.
Rainy Day Fund: The Savings Reserve in the state budget, known as the Rainy Day Fund, is now near $1.1 billion, even after financing the recovery from recent natural disasters. There remains $74 million in the Disaster Relief Fund and $186 million in the Medicaid Contingency Reserve.
Applying for Unemployment Benefits: If you are laid off from your job, you can now apply for unemployment benefits without waiting a week and without having to look for a job. The web address is des.nc.gov/apply-unemployment, or call 888-737-0259.
Helplines: The N.C. Coronavirus Helpline is 866-462-3821. Also, the N.C. Hotline has been activated, just dial 211. In Brunswick County the COVID 19 information line is (910) 253-2339. The web address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I expect that this week the four House working groups will meet, possibly virtually or carefully socially distanced. There will be a flood of ideas to support the Healthcare, Economics, Education, and Continuity of State Operations of the state and our citizens. Legislation is already being prepared to be examined and approved by these bipartisan groups and passed into law in what will possibly be a special session in early April.