UPDATE: The Latest on North Carolina’s Unemployment Benefits Boondoggle

Submitted by Jen Jones on Tue, 05/03/2011 - 11:29am

UPDATE: The Latest on North Carolina’s Unemployment Benefits Boondoggle

As we’ve been reporting, thousands of North Carolinians were on course to lose their unemployment benefits as North Carolina lawmakers failed to revise the calculations used to determine when these payouts from the Extended Benefits program could be distributed. These same benefits were then placed in limbo when the Governor vetoed a bill in which Republican legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly attached budget cuts to the state’s eligibility for these federal benefits.

Because of this partisan tug-of-war between GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, compensation payments have been cut off for about 37,000 jobless North Carolinians for more than a week. This week, Republican legislative leaders are revisiting legislation extending these unemployment benefits after handling two other financial issues, including a fix to the state health plan that could also impact 663,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents.

If legislators and Perdue can come to an agreement on changing the eligibility formula for these federal benefits, unemployed workers whose payments were stopped April 16 could recoup their money at a later time. "It's not dead. We may see something,"  Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson and a member of the chamber's leadership team told the State Government News Service.

This partisan rift over changing the formula for calculating unemployment benefits, allowing the federally funded program to continue for people out of work for up to 99 weeks, impacts the state’s hardest hit citizens: the long-term unemployed.

As has been well reported, Republican lawmakers originally tied the benefits extension to language that would have forced Perdue to accept double-digit budget cuts before negotiations over the budget could even begin. While Perdue cried "extortion," Republican leadership defended the linkage as a way of ensuring that schools, state agencies and contractors know how much state spending they could count on if budget negotiations drag passed the budget deadline in June.

Perdue’s spokesperson has said the governor is willing to sign a “clean bill” (i.e., one that comes to her without budget attachments) that revisits the formula and extends these unemployment benefits.

According to the State Government News Service, “North Carolina is one of about three dozen states in which an extended benefits program of up to 20 weeks of compensation was created as a way to lessen the pain for the long-term unemployed caught in the recession's massive job losses. Apodaca said that Republicans were not told by the Employment Security Commission until 4:30 p.m. on April 8 that the benefits were about to expire. Meanwhile, letters had already gone out to people who would lose their benefits, and Democrats had filed two bills on the issue. Sen. Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said Friday news of the benefits' loss came from the federal government with little warning and that he told Republican leaders as soon as he heard.”

This notice comes as little consolation to those languishing without any income during this “benefits boondoggle.”

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