The first wave of coronavirus relief offers immediate help for working families impacted by the pandemic through emergency paid sick leave and expanded jobless benefits.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on March 18, also provides for free testing and a free coronavirus-related doctor visit.
Paid sick leave
The act mandates that employers offer two weeks of paid sick leave to people who are subject to isolation or quarantine, or have symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Working parents who are forced to stay at home to care for children whose schools are closed are also eligible.
The mandated sick leave pays 100 percent of the beneficiary’s salary, up to $511 per day. It also provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of normal salary, up to $200 per day.
About 24 percent of U.S. civilian workers do not get employee-provided paid sick leave, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Self-employed citizens will get a tax credit equivalent to the amount of sick leave benefits.
Most workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees qualify for two weeks of emergency paid sick leave. Employers receive tax credits to offset the cost of providing leave. Employers can call 919-707-1150 for more information.
Companies with fewer than 50 employees can opt out of providing sick leave if doing so would put the business at risk of closing.
Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 17 executive order, the N.C. Employment Security Division has expanded eligibility and benefits to individuals impacted by the coronavirus. The order specifically addresses:
• Individuals who are separated from employment;
• Individuals who have had their work hours reduced; and
• Individuals who are prevented from working due to a coronavirus-related medical condition or who are under direct quarantine orders.
In addition, the order authorizes the N.C. Department of Commerce to ease or waive some requirements to receive financial assistance, including:
• The one-week waiting period for benefits;
• The able to work and available to work requirements;
• The work search requirements;
• The actively seeking work requirements; and
• The “lack of work” requirement.
There are also benefits available for other qualifying individuals – those laid off because of business slowdown that is COVID-19-related and those who lose their jobs if their employer goes out of business.
For more details on expanded benefits and various categories of eligibility, go to des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information. File for unemployment benefits at des.nc.gov. If you don't have access to a computer, you may file over the phone by calling 888-737-0259.
Local jobless applications soar
Applications for unemployment benefits have spiked since the state ordered restaurants and bars to close on March 17.
“We have seen multiple affected employees visit our career centers and have also assisted dozens more by telephone,” said Paula Alter, who manages NCWorks career centers in Macon, Swain and Jackson counties. “Many of them have not previously filed for unemployment, so we are helping them understand the steps to take.”
NCWorks helps the unemployed by providing information about filing for benefits and helping them find new employment and training opportunities, Alter said.
NCWorks does not process unemployment applications.
Alter said the Employment Security Division has been swamped with applications.
“Due to the high volume of unemployment claims being filed, the computer and phone systems have been at capacity, so please continue to try filing the claim and make sure to follow the instructions on the website,” Alter said.
NCWorks career centers are now closed to all public access.
“We realize that not everyone has internet service or a computer,” she said. “So individuals needing to use a computer are welcome to make an appointment by calling us at 828-369-9534. We encourage all jobseekers to register on ncworks.gov as well, and use our site to look for new jobs and access other resources.
“In the coming days, our career center staff will be working on some creative ways to continue providing job seeker and employer assistance to maintain services to both as we all social distance,” Alter said.