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For those of you who live in North Carolina, does this story sound familiar?

Charlotte's John Allison, 37, told HuffPost the [political] stalemate [over jobless benefits] reminds him of a game of chicken, except "the person controlling the car’s not even in it." "It’s a remote control game of chicken and I’m tied in the seat," he said. Allison said he lost his job as a landscaping consultant in July 2009 and has been surviving thanks to $281 a week in unemployment insurance. The checks stopped after April 16, when the federal Extended Benefits program expired in the state. Lawmakers had failed to change an eligibility trigger that activates extended benefits only if the jobless rate has risen in the past two years. The rate in North Carolina hasn't risen, but it hasn't fallen precipitously, either; it currently stands at 9.7 percent.

Unfortunately, in a state with near double-digit unemployment and currently facing a political standoff between a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, Mr. Allison’s story is far from uncommon.

As has been well reported all over the country, tens of thousands of North Carolinians like Allison have lost their unemployment benefits as North Carolina lawmakers have failed, for a month now, to revise the calculations used to determine when these payouts from the Extended Benefits program could be distributed. These same benefits have been placed in limbo as Governor Perdue remains locked in a political standoff with Republican legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly who have continually attached budget cuts to the state’s eligibility for these federal benefits. While the Governor calls for a “clean bill,” and the legislature in turn demands a budget, average North Carolinians going without their monthly benefits must be wondering: “where do we turn now?”

 

With few jobs and even fewer options in a state without federal benefits for the long-term unemployment, many Tar Heels, like John Allison, are taking their financial futures into their own hands—albeit with diminished (and diminishing) returns.

“For his part, Allison said he's had some success in his job search since he started compromising and applying for retail jobs that pay $8 an hour. "I’ve just now started getting really positive responses back ... now that I’m applying for a lot less high paying jobs," he said. Yet he hopes the benefits are restored in case he doesn't find work before the next month's rent is due. He's been emailing lawmakers and said one responded to say there would be a renewed effort to pass legislation next week. "I am hoping that will be a legitimate effort and not just a 'Well, we tried' kind of thing," Allison said.”

Are you one of the tens of thousands whose federal benefits are frozen in a sea of political stalemates? Will underemployment in a weakened job market be enough of an answer to help you stay current on your bills? Or will your inability to find comparable work spell disaster for your already recession-beleaguered budget?

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