Governor Roy Cooper took additional actions to the address the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina by issuing stronger social distancing requirements and speeding up the process to get benefits to people out of work. The key provisions of the order are requirements that retail stores still in operation have to implement new social distancing policies to make shopping safer for customers and employees. The second provision makes earlier COVID-19 guidelines mandatory for nursing facilities and recommends other long-term care facilities do the same. The third area is in regards to unemployment benefits, and issues changes that will speed up certain benefit payments to those who are out of work.

Key Takeaways from Executive Order 131:

  • It sets limits on how many people can be in a store at one time. The order allows 5 people per 1,000 square feet of retail space; or 20% of fire marshal posted occupancy limits.
  • Establishments must mark 6 feet of distance in areas where people gather such as checkout lines and delivery pickup locations.
  • It requires specific cleaning measures for retail stores.

The Order encourages:

  • Implementing hygiene recommendations for employees and customers. This includes offering hand sanitizer at the doors and providing face coverings for workers.
  • Establishing designated shopping times for high-risk groups. Many stores began providing this service prior to the Order.
  • Creating barriers between customers and employees at checkouts for the safety of staff, customers, and the fight against community spread.

Greater Winston-Salem, Inc. is gathering a Back to Business resource list to help retailers and employers find goods and services that assist with social distancing and public health measures.

Executive Order 131 has provisions that will help streamline the processing of unemployment claims by lifting some of the requirements for employers to file claims on behalf of their employees. Job-Attached Unemployment refers to the unemployment of any individual who, during any week, earns less than his weekly benefit amount, is employed by a regular employer, and works less than his normal customary full-time weekly hours because of a lack of full-time work because of COVID-19. Claims for benefits made under this provision are initiated by the employer and a continuing employer-employee relationship is understood.

Under the order:

  • An employer does not need to prepay the cost of the unemployment benefits for their employees at the time the attached claim is filed.
  • Employers may file attached claims for a period of more than six weeks of benefits.
  • Employers may submit an attached claim for an employee more than once in a year.
  • Employers do not need to have a positive credit balance with DES to file the attached claims.
  • The Order is effective for the attached claims filed as of April 1st.

Executive Order 131 goes into effect at 5:00pm today, and states these requirements will last for thirty days unless extended by further executive action.

April 28th Set as Tentative Start to the General Assembly’s COVID-19 Session

The North Carolina House and Senate are scheduled to convene at noon on April 28th. They will honor social distancing guidelines as they craft legislation, hold committee meetings, and vote. Although the House requires in-person floor votes, reasonable contingency plans are being made to accommodate public safety. One possible scenario is the House using the upstairs gallery to ensure members have enough space to practice social distancing, and hold votes open for hours so representatives can come in and out to cast their votes without overcrowding.

Congress successfully used a similar tactic. The state Senate is expected to hold votes open as well. Typically, they are held for five seconds. However, a longer time will allow legislators to vote safely. It is unknown how debate will proceed or whether the General Assembly building will be open to the public. However, Greater Winston-Salem, Inc. will continue to monitor the process, public attendance policies, and results.

Highlights of the House schedule include:

  • Working groups have started meeting. Only audio feeds are available to the public. There is limited seating at the statehouse, and video feeds should go live on Tuesday.
  • Bill drafting is likely to draw up formal legislation between April 16th and April 23rd.
  • Committee meetings for the House’s health and budget committees are scheduled for April 29th. These meetings will be conducted remotely.
  • April 30th- Floor votes in the House.

Leaders will work quickly to craft a COVID-19 package to address state needs. Moreover, the legislature may delay work on a new state budget until July or August when more is known about COVID-19’s state revenue impacts.

Supplemental $600 Unemployment Pay

The $600 per week unemployment supplement pay from the CARES Act is expected to start showing up in unemployment checks for North Carolinians this week. The pay boost will be retroactive and applied to applicants who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. However, independent contractors and self-employed individuals may have to wait another two weeks to receive this benefit. Additional federal guidance on CARES continues to roll out and clarify rules and their impact on implementing programs.

Some independent contractors have mentioned that North Carolina’s online filing system has ruled them ineligible for regular state benefits under current rules, but that doesn’t mean contractors are not eligible for federal unemployment benefits. Several new federal unemployment programs are coming online to boost benefits, provide benefits to more people, and to extend the period of time out-of-work people can receive benefits during the pandemic.

Please check back frequently as we will continue to provide guidance and information regarding changes to state and federal COVID-19 rules and any new relief programs available to our members.