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Free masks proving popular

The city of Greensboro, which started giving out free face masks on Wednesday, ran out of Thursday’s stash early. Production difficulties at one of the city’s suppliers left the total below 1,600, which were all distributed by 1:30 p.m. The city expected more masks later Thursday and has promised the next 2,000 to Guilford County Schools.

However, the city expects to have more masks to give out to the public beginning at 10 a.m. today, until supplies run out.

In all, the city plans to give out 30,000 masks, a giveaway underwritten by the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation. The initial 12,000 were handed out Wednesday, the first day of the giveaway, at City Hall, the United Way of Greater Greensboro and through other organizations.

Free masks can be picked up from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays at the Melvin Municipal Office Building while supplies last.

Find more photos at greensboro.com.

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N.C. legislators OK plans for federal COVID-19 aid; work on compromise begins since Senate takes more cautious approach

RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators on Thursday got down to negotiating final details of their initial COVID-19 emergency aid package after the House approved a version more generous with federal money than the Senate.

The House voted almost unanimously for a bill that distributes more than $1.7 billion of the state’s share of federal coronavirus relief money approved by Congress. The bill emphasizes buttressing remote K-12 education, helping North Carolina universities perform vaccine and anti-body research and treating COVID-19 patients.

“Folks are looking for answers. Folks are looking for relief,” said state Rep. Brenden Jones, a Columbus County Republican, before the nearly 100-page House bill passed 117-1. “And I think what we have here in this bill is a good start.”

As with the $1.3 billion-plus Senate package, the House bill also alters temporary laws or extends for such things as teacher licensing and vehicle inspections made difficult with the statewide stay-at-home order.

Both chambers also agreed to expand a low-cost loan program to help small businesses struggling to survive, although the amounts they allocate differ by about $50 million.

Budget writers from both chambers moved later Thursday toward working out the differences in the competing measures, with a goal of sending a final bill to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk by today.

Cooper and his office have been significantly involved in crafting a product. They influenced Senate Republicans to add another $130 million to the chamber’s package late Wednesday to boost rural and minority health, food banks and school nutrition programs serving 500,000 meals a day since the novel coronavirus crisis began.

The Senate, which passed its package unanimously, has been more cautious with spending the $3.5 billion that North Carolina is receiving in federal coronavirus relief.

The legislature’s top economist has calculated that the state’s tax revenues could miss projections through mid-2021 by $2.5 billion.

“It is not prudent to throw money around now that we may need in the near future,” according to a news release from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow.

But one House Democrat said the Senate bail is holding on to too much money. While the House plan immediately sends $350 million to county and city governments, the Senate plans distributes $100 million initially, with more if certain conditions are met.

“The relief is needed now, not six months in the future,” said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake.

The House vote on Thursday was performed under new operating rules that allowed legislators who chose to be absent out of health concerns to vote through their majority or minority leaders. Twenty-three Democrats and one Republican used the proxy vote option. Otherwise, most members on the floor tried to practice social distancing. Many wore surgical masks.

“What an interesting time to be in Raleigh,” state Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, quipped after taking off his mask to speak.

Guilford lost 2,000 jobs due to layoffs since the coronavirus reached N.C in early March, data show

CHARLOTTE — More than 13,000 workers in North Carolina have lost their jobs since the novel coronavirus outbreak hit the state in early March, according to data from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Guilford County had the second-highest loss of jobs in the state, with 2,000 layoffs as of late April.

Businesses have filed more than 180 notifications of closures or mass layoffs, according to state records. But the notifications do not include all layoffs and are likely just a fraction of the total.

Generally, companies have to notify the state when they close a facility that affects at least 50 workers during a 30-day period or if at least 500 people are laid off.

Some of the largest layoffs occurred at rental-car company Enterprise Holdings, with 884 people who lost their jobs. The company operates the Enterprise, Alamo and National brands.

Another 815 employees of airline-catering company HMSHost were laid off at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain had 376 layoffs statewide.

About 40% of the layoffs are temporary.

Mecklenburg County registered the most layoffs of any county, with nearly 3,000 as of late April. Wake County saw about 1,600.

From March 15 to April 27, more than 875,000 people in North Carolina filed an unemployment claim, according to the Commerce Department.

The flood of claims has overwhelmed the state’s Division of Employment Security, as applicants report technical difficulties with the website and long hold times if they call.

There have been an average of 80,000 calls a day since the middle of March, said Lockhart Taylor, the head of the office. That’s when Gov. Roy Cooper started ordering businesses to close in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Taylor said he is adding staff to keep up with the influx of claims.

He acknowledged the many complaints about unanswered phone calls recently during a meeting with state legislators.

“We really are in somewhat uncharted territory,” he said, explaining that the number of jobless claims — let alone the phone calls — far exceeds what the state saw during the recession a decade ago.

Less than half of the people who applied have been paid their benefits, which now includes the additional $600 a week from the federal stimulus package, according to the division. The state has paid out $910 million in unemployment insurance.

North Carolina has among the lowest-paying jobless benefits in the U.S. after the legislature reduced them in 2013.

Cooper eased some limits on receiving unemployment in March to help lessen the financial burden caused by the coronavirus pandemic, such as ending a one-week waiting period and allowing some workers who had their hours reduced but weren’t laid off to apply.

The federal stimulus bill also extends unemployment insurance to the self-employed, who typically do not qualify.