Roy Cooper

Governor Cooper on an inspection tour of Western Carolina University.

Gov. Cooper eases restrictions in crisis

By Jim Buchanan

 

A flood of North Carolinians are filing unemployment claims as the coronavirus impacts businesses, with the hospitality industry – restaurants, bars, travel firms and Harrah’s Cherokee Casino – being hit particularly hard.

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the closure of restaurants and bars statewide, with the exception being takeout and delivery orders.

On the heels of that announcement, the governor eased restrictions for applying for unemployment in North Carolina, including:

• Workers who aren’t laid off, but do see their hours reduced, can apply for benefits.

• The waiting period to apply for benefits has been lifted.

• People no longer have to be actively seeking a new job to continue receiving benefits.

• Businesses impacted by coronavirus won’t have to help pay for former workers’ benefits.

People seeking benefits can go to DES.NC.GOV or call 888-737-0259 to apply. Expect waits to be long; last Thursday unemployment claims in N.C. stood at about 42,000. By Monday morning that number was 113,000 and climbing. Callers who hang up while on hold go to the back of the line.

While changes may come with the pandemic crisis, North Carolina currently ranks in the bottom 10 states for both average weekly payments and the number of weeks of eligibility for payments.

Currently, maximum payments are $350 per week for up to 20 weeks.

Those applying should have details about any separation, vacation or severance pay received, and basic information such as their Social Security number and bank routing and account number for those who would like benefits directly deposited into their bank accounts. Those opting not to use direct deposit will receive benefits on a state-issued debit card.

A list of frequently asked questions for businesses is available at https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information. Businesses can also apply for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration of up to $2 million to pay debts, payroll and bills that can’t be paid due to the coronavirus disaster.

Local agencies have an eye on the situation.

“Our public health crisis is forcing an economic predicament that is very quickly having significant negative impacts across Jackson County and our region,” said Rich Price, economic development director for Jackson County. “We are working diligently with federal, state and local officials to identify and direct business owners to all available resources during this very trying period. Our local economy has been strong, and we need to do everything we can to prop up our business community until we can see a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Applicants are encouraged to apply online at disasterloan.sba.gov or call the SBA at 800-659-2955.

Call Business Link North Carolina for general relief source answers at 800-228-8443 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. BLNC staff will connect businesses with appropriate organizations for assistance. Other business resources are Carolina Community Impact Inc., which offers assistance with credit and asset-building techniques at 919-861-5321, and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, which has offices across the state, at 919-803-1437.

Locally, individuals seeking help with filing information can call NCWorks Career Centers in Jackson (586-4063), Macon (369-9534) or Swain counties (488-2149) for assistance.

“The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority is committed to the recovery of our hospitality industry in Jackson County and to the safety and wellbeing of our community,” Director Nick Breedlove said. “Our thoughts are with those affected by the COVID-19 impacts locally. We are working around the clock to provide our businesses with every resource possible and are already working toward recovery planning when that time comes.”

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association has compiled a list of resources for businesses impacted by COVID-19 at www.ncrla.org/coronavirus/latest/?fbclid=IwAR3yXMt9cEjTw46fviva8c8yc716PEItl5EYaqIKyexHgo-CTL0Wsr7M-yo [ncrla.org].