North Carolina has surpassed 1.1 million applicants for federal and state unemployment-insurance benefits.

The state also is closing in on $5 billion in overall payments.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Tuesday that there have been 1.11 million claimants representing 1.72 million claims.

Some individuals have been required to file a second claim — after being determined to be ineligible for initial state benefits — in order to qualify for federal benefits that often include extended state benefits.

Currently, 27.3% of the 4.06 million North Carolinians considered in the state’s workforce as of mid-May have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.

There were 21,758 new claimants Monday, representing a seven-day high. The daily filing peak was 34,706 on March 30.

The Division of Employment Security said 78,587 claimants have received state and/or federal benefits, or about 68% of the state’s unemployment-insurance, or UI, benefit claimants.

Another 21%, or 229,120, have been determined to not be eligible, whether they lacked a sufficient wage history, have not filed a weekly certification or earned excessive wages in a benefit week.

About 7%, or 73,260, were not approved for state benefits and are awaiting a determination on federal benefits. About 4%, or 47,584, have yet to receive an answer on whether they will receive state benefits.

Altogether, $4.9 billion had been paid in state and federal UI benefits between March 15 and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was at close to $3.85 billion before the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic began. Since then, $1.08 billion has been paid out, 28% of the fund’s total.

The remaining UI payment breakdown is $2.64 billion from the federal pandemic unemployment-compensation package; $1.12 billion in the federal pandemic unemployment-assistance package; and $64.4 million in pandemic-emergency unemployment compensation.

That means that 72% of UI payments to North Carolinians are coming from federal sources, mostly the $600 weekly benefit.

What makes that percentage critical for unemployed or furloughed North Carolinians is that federal UI benefits could expire as early as July 25 unless extended by Congress.

Although the Democratic-controlled U.S. House has passed a bill that would offer a new round of benefits and some members of the Trump administration are considering another federal stimulus package, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has been reluctant to act to date.

The state UI trust fund was built by the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly to eliminate as quickly as possible a $2.8 billion debt to the U.S. Labor and Treasury departments. That borrowing helped pay extended state jobless benefits during the Great Recession of 2008-11.

The primary way that was accomplished was by the GOP supermajority approving in June 2013 a drastic cut in the maximum weekly state UI benefit amount from $535 to $350 and the number of benefit weeks from as many as 26 to 12.

Because state unemployment benefits are on a sliding scale, the number of weeks can rise up to 20 weeks when the state unemployment rate is 9% or higher.

The state’s jobless rate was 12.9% in May and 12.2% in April. Individuals without jobs and not actively looking for work are not counted as part of the labor force.

However, the sliding scale is only activated twice a year — on Jan. 1 and July 1 — both based on the average rate for the first three months of a six-month cycle.

That means the January through March rates for the July 1 trigger, and July, August and September for the Jan. 1 trigger.

During the 2020 legislative session that ended Friday, members did not take any committee action on two Democratic-sponsored UI-focused bills: House Bill 1075 and companion Senate Bill 792.

Those bills would have restored the number of UI weeks to 26 and set a weekly maximum benefit of $400.

“We can afford to raise the weekly maximum benefit to help jobless workers,” state Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, said Monday. He is a primary sponsor of SB792.

“We have the money; we just need to political will to make these changes.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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