Tens of thousands of jobless North Carolinians are wondering when the stalemate will end between a Republican-led state legislature and the Democratic governor—both wanting to pass a state budget, but with little to agree on other than that.
According to a new article from Arthur Delaney, entitled “North Carolina Unemployment Standoff Drags Endlessly,” a reporter who has been watching the now more-than-a month-long budget boondoggle play out in front of both local and national media outlets, the disagreements between the legislative and executive branches is unchanged this week despite attempts at concessions on both sides.
“North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) does not like the latest attempt by Republicans in the General Assembly to link unemployment benefits and budget cuts, which is bad news for the tens of thousands of jobless North Carolinians who want their benefits back. In April, Perdue vetoed a bill attaching a reauthorization of federal unemployment benefits to big budget cuts that Perdue said would have resulted in mass layoffs. As a result, the federal Extended Benefits program expired in North Carolina, initially stranding some 37,000 people laid off through no fault of their own. Since then, the impasse has stopped checks for between 43,000 and 46,000 people, according to the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.”
While the Governor Perdue waits for a “clean bill” that restores unemployment benefits to North Carolinians “with no strings attached,” this week Republicans in the NC General Assembly introduced new legislation that continues to tie the benefits to less cuts, albeit cuts that are less severe than previous proposals put before Perdue.
As a result, an impasse in partisanship from both branches of leadership may leave many unemployed Tar Heels with little to live on as both sides vie for the “higher ground” in what some believe is simply a case of over-extended political posturing.
"For weeks, 42,000 unemployed North Carolinians have waited for the legislature to show leadership by passing legislation that will restore their federal unemployment benefits," Perdue said in a statement Wednesday. "If this bill were to become law in its current form, thousands of teachers, teaching assistants and students would be held hostage by the legislature's political games. On behalf of the 42,000 unemployed North Carolinians who have been denied benefits, I call on the General Assembly to act and pass a bill that solely addresses these federally funded unemployment benefits."
The federal aid ran out because North Carolina failed to modify a trigger that determines whether a state is eligible for this particular benefits program which seeks to assist the long-term jobless, hardest hit by the post-recessionary economic malaise, by providing up to 20 weeks of additional checks to those who have already exhausted the standard 79 weeks of combined state and federal benefits. At the close of 2010, Congress made the triggers for these benefits more liberal, offering states the opportunity to take the extra 20 weeks if the unemployment rate is above 8 percent. North Carolina’s unemployment rate is currently at 9.7 percent.
But according to Delaney, local leaders neglected to actually “pull the trigger.” “No state has had more trouble with conforming to the new federal law than North Carolina. Twenty-five states have taken Congress up on its offer, most of them without controversy. Michigan, Missouri and Florida lawmakers modified their states' triggers with compromises that reduced state benefits. In Tennessee, after letting the program lapse in April -- apparently by accident -- lawmakers returned to the issue and passed a law restoring the benefits this month.”
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