Illustration credit: Canva

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: North Carolina is known for paltry unemployment payouts, both in the amount and duration. But everybody who works (or their employer) has to pay into the unemployment insurance program, right? So, does the Employment Security program have a surplus in funds? If so, how much is it? And where do our excess unemployment insurance payments wind up?

My answer: I just know when I had to apply for unemployment because of furloughs at the newspaper, it almost required a Ph.D. to figure out how to actually file a claim. But it was better than not eating that week.

Real answer: David Rhoades, communications director for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, took this one on, as the Employment Security office is part of Commerce. Rhoades first noted the North Carolina Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is funded through state unemployment insurance taxes paid by employers.

“By law, the fund may only be used to pay state unemployment benefits,” Rhoades said via email. “Individual workers do not contribute to this fund, only employers.”

The fund’s balance earns interest on a quarterly basis and is deposited back into the Trust Fund.

“As of Aug. 22, the balance in the fund is $4.2 billion,” Rhoades said. “The employer-paid unemployment insurance taxes remain in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund until individuals file eligible claims for unemployment insurance benefits.”

Currently, the maximum length of time a person can get unemployment is for 12 weeks, and the weekly maximum benefit amount is $350.

“While not currently an issue, in times when there is not enough money in the Trust Fund to pay outstanding claims for benefits, then the state has the ability to borrow from the federal government to continue to pay unemployment insurance benefits to people who qualify,” Rhoades said. “The state is then required to pay back the federal government, normally with interest, and there are penalties if the state doesn’t comply.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in July, which translates to 171,400 people. Just over 5 million people are employed in the state.

As of June, Asheville had an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent. In a February 2023 article, Forbes Advisor ranked the best and worst states for unemployment payouts “and found that even among the most generous states, the average weekly payment in 2020 was under $500. Kansas ranks first on our list with 26 weeks of benefits and an average weekly payment of $375.”

Kansas came in first overall and Florida last, according to Forbes Advisor, which wrote this about the Sunshine State:

“The state offered just 12 weeks of unemployment during ‘normal times’ — meaning without pandemic extensions from the federal government — with an average weekly payment of just $236. Most states offer between 20 and 26 weeks of benefits, although you may qualify for fewer weeks than the maximum in your state.”

North Carolina ranked 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Forbes Advisor article was originally published when North Carolina was offering 20 weeks of unemployment and an average weekly benefit of $236. The federal government extended benefit time periods during the pandemic, but that ended in September 2021.

The city of Asheville has contracted for a $1.4 million sidewalk installation on Onteora Boulevard in the Oakley neighborhood, but the contractor ran into a delay while waiting for a stormwater pipe. // Photo provided by the City of Asheville.

Question: About six weeks ago the city started construction on a sidewalk on Onteora Boulevard in Oakley, which was great because it’s really needed. They cleared off the space needed and for most of it — it runs from Raleigh Road to Lincoln Avenue, where there’s an existing sidewalk on the other side of the street — put gravel down. And then for the past few weeks nothing has happened. Can you find out what the timetable is for completing the sidewalk? And why aren’t they doing any work on it right now?

My answer: Apparently it’s a whole lot cheaper just to slap some gravel down and hope for the best.

Real answer: “The contractor for the Onteora Boulevard sidewalk did halt work for approximately two weeks while waiting for a stormwater pipe delivery delay, and dealing with a construction emergency on another project,” city of Asheville spokeswoman Kim Miller said via email, noting delivery of the materials was scheduled for today or yesterday. “And work will immediately resume at that time.”

The construction is required to be completed no later than May 2024, Miller added, “but we anticipate the work will be completed well before then.”

The project has a $1.4 million budget, and so far $306,169 has been spent.

You can find more information on the project, as well as other city capital projects on the capital projects dashboard.  

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to