NC House OKs tougher requirement for jobless benefits

House Speaker Tim Moore, center, says unemployment changes approved by his chamber Thursday will save workers and employers $240 million.
House Speaker Tim Moore, center, says unemployment changes approved by his chamber Thursday will save workers and employers $240 million.

The N.C. House approved changes to the state’s unemployment laws Thursday, including a controversial requirement that people receiving jobless benefits contact five employers each week.

Senate Bill 15 makes a range of tweaks for the Division of Employment Security. Supporters say the bill will save workers and employers $240 million on unemployment insurance by suspending a fee that funds a reserve fund for unemployment once that fund hits $1 billion.

“Reforming the unemployment insurance law allows us to both prepare for tough times and suspend a burdensome surcharge on businesses,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release.

The House took a final 82-28 vote on the bill Thursday after a debate that focused on the requirement of five weekly contacts with employers. Current law requires the unemployed to contact two employers each week to continue receiving benefits.

Rep. Jonathan Jordan, an Ashe County Republican, unsuccessfully tried to change that requirement to three job contacts. He said increasing the number to five would have an unintended negative impact on employers.

“This is going to be a tremendous burden to employers if we put five in there,” Jordan said. “People come in and get applications for jobs that they don’t have any qualifications for, and they’re wasting everybody’s time.”

But Rep. John Bradford, a Mecklenburg County Republican who owns a real-estate company, said he thinks employers would benefit.

“The more applicants I have for a job, the more chance I’m going to get the quality person I want for my organization,” he said. “As an employer, please bother me a lot, because I’m hiring.”

The job contacts can be made online or in person. Several Democrats have criticized the change because they said some people don’t have access to a computer, and that more contacts would be an unfair burden for some.

Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, said five contacts a week is appropriate to show someone is serious about finding a new job.

“Short of telling them ‘you can sleep all week,’ how much more reasonable can it get?” he said. “That’s hardly putting a burden on the people who are getting checks to survive.”

Jordan’s amendment to lower the number failed in a 49-60 vote after backers said the Senate would likely reject the change, leading to conference committee negotiations.

“They are through with this bill – they’re not going to go to conference with it,” said Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican. “There’s been hours and hours of time put into correcting what was broken over there (the Division of Employment Security). Everything is headed in the right direction.”

A final Senate vote will send the bill to Gov. Pat McCrory.