N.C. set to lose jobless benefits

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Hanover County residents arrested on Moral Mondays

More than 70,000 people in North Carolina, including about 1,300 in New Hanover County, could lose their federal emergency unemployment compensation starting in July when state Employment Security Law changes take effect.

The numbers are based on recent counts of jobless residents who exhausted their initial regular benefits from a state trust fund paid by employers — up to 26 weeks — and were then eligible to get federal EUC benefits.

In New Hanover County, 1,374 people were receiving federal EUC benefits during the week ending June 8, North Carolina Commerce Department spokesman Josh Ellis said Tuesday, June 25.

Another 1,859 were receiving regular benefits in New Hanover County, Ellis said.

State commerce officials were raising awareness about changes to the state’s Employment Security Law following passage of House Bill 4 earlier this year, as well as directing those affected to workforce offices that can provide job training, job preparation, career guidance and computer access, Ellis said.

Workforce information is available at nccommerce.com/workforce.

“Our ultimate goal is we want as few people as possible to need unemployment benefits,” Ellis said.

Supporters of House Bill 4, which cuts the maximum weekly state benefit from $535 to $350, had proposed the changes to more quickly help pay off North Carolina’s approximately $2.5 billion debt to the federal government for unemployment benefits the state has received in the past.

The federal emergency extension of benefits ends after 2013. By cutting state unemployment insurance benefits North Carolina could lose about $600 million in federal money over the next six months, said Bill Rowe, general counsel and director of advocacy for the North Carolina Justice Center.

“For a number of these folks it may be the only income they have,” Rowe said June 25. 

State unemployment insurance benefits cuts in House Bill 4 violate North Carolina’s agreement with the U.S. Labor Department regarding EUC, and on July 1 North Carolina will be the only state without additional weeks of unemployment benefits under the federal EUC program, according to House Bill 922 filed in April by House Democratic Leader Larry Hall of Durham County. House Bill 922, which would have extended the federal emergency benefits, failed to pass out of committee.

The North Carolina Justice Center was among more than 20 advocacy groups that sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly on June 25, asking it to delay state benefit cuts included in House Bill 4 to January 2014.

“The decision to shut down federal EUC in North Carolina is without precedent nationally — both as a self-inflicted wound to the state’s economy and as an act of government callousness,” the letter stated.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate of 8.8 percent ranked 5th highest in the nation, according to seasonally-adjusted May 2013 rates compiled by the U.S. Labor Statistics Bureau.

The Employment Security Law changes were among several issues highlighted at recent “Moral Monday” protests challenging state General Assembly bills protesters say could hurt poor and working people. 

Rosemary Toumey, a Democrat and retired teacher from Wilmington, attended two recent protests and was arrested at one in June for failure to disperse when commanded, second degree trespassing and interfering with public peace. 

Toumey said she participated in the protests because of concerns with legislative action from the mostly Republican General Assembly toward education, voting rights, women’s rights, tax inequities and environmental issues.

“The crowds are getting larger and larger and louder and louder,” Toumey said June 25 of the recent protests. 

North Carolina branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People helped organize the “Moral Monday” movement, as well as the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition, or HK on J. 

“We are trying to make things better for all North Carolinians, not just a select few,” Deborah Dicks Maxwell, New Hanover County NAACP’s branch president, said June 25. 

Maxwell also had been arrested at a protest and said to date, about 550 people, including 10 from New Hanover County, had been arrested.

Recent policies or laws regarding education, Medicaid, unemployment, income tax and the Racial Justice Act only benefit a small minority of people who are influential and have money, she said.

“This is the people’s house,” Maxwell said of the General Assembly. “The majority of people in North Carolina are suffering at this time, and the laws being made are not benefiting them.”

email michelle@luminanews.com

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