Governor needs to own jobless benefits debacle

North Carolina’s unemployment system is a disaster. Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t getting their benefits. They’ve waited as long as two months instead of the two weeks that’s typical. They’re getting little to no information from the state unemployment office, and their governor is not doing a whole lot better.

Last week, Roy Cooper said he knows N.C. families need help and doesn’t think the state unemployment office has done enough. “I am pushing them to move faster,” the governor said. That’s a little too close to blame shifting for North Carolinians who desperately need their benefits. The governor needs to own this problem, address it, and fix it.

North Carolina is far from the only state having difficulty handling the surge in unemployment claims caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the very necessary stay-at-home restrictions that followed. But people don’t want excuses. They need money to pay bills and housing costs, to put food on the table. At the least, they need to know what’s going on. In North Carolina, communication is sparse and it’s too difficult to get a human on the phone. “AND, it’s not enough to just answer the phone,” N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg Democrat, said in an email to constituents Sunday. “They have to make sure the person who answers can actually help. And that’s been an issue.”

DES also has 600 people available to address claims, Jackson said. Staffing has been increased, but given that about 200,000 claims have been outstanding for more than 14 days, clearly more is needed.

All of which is information that should be coming from the governor, not a state senator. That may not be Cooper’s first instinct, especially when every COVID-19 decision the Democratic governor makes gets probed for flaws by Republican leaders in this election year.

No matter. Cooper has a crisis within a crisis with the mess at DES, and he needs to do more than tell officials to move faster.

The Charlotte Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer

How the UNC system can save money post-COVID-19

UNC has announced its intent to reopen all 16 campuses this fall with in-person instruction. But the system will have to make significant changes before moving forward.

Jenna A. Robinson and Sumantra Maitra released a new policy brief for the Martin Center describing some of the financial changes that universities can make to survive and thrive post-COVID.

The UNC system’s revenues for the academic year 2020-2021 will be significantly lower than they were in 2019-2020. Surveys show that fall enrollment might drop as much as 20% nationally from previous years. Endowment gains and private gifts will also suffer.

But there are ways the system can cut spending without damaging its core functions. With sporting events unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels anytime soon, Robinson and Maitra suggest, athletics is a natural place to make cuts. Universities must consider eliminating some sports programs, dropping to a lower division, or switching to intramural sports. Head coaches should take a pay cut of at least 10%.

The brief also recommends an immediate end to all new capital spending. The UNC system has already begun to move in this direction. At a meeting in April, UNC announced that all new construction on campuses will be suspended, which will save more than $150 million.

Robinson and Maitra also recommend significant cuts to administrative and professional staff, hiring freezes, and pay cuts to highly paid administrators.

They recommend only modest cuts to academics, including the elimination of low-productivity programs, an immediate hiring freeze, temporary salary cuts for highly paid faculty, incentives for early retirement and an increase in some teaching loads.

Together, these changes can help the UNC system preserve its core academic functions in this time of unprecedented declines in enrollment and economic uncertainty.

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

Load comments