Hagan pushes for restored jobless benefits as Republicans blame her for loss

Posted January 6, 2014

— U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state lawmakers traded barbs Monday as Congress prepared to take a series of votes that could restore long-term unemployment benefits to the state's unemployed workers. 

The Congressional votes could lead to the restoration of benefits for thousands of unemployed North Carolina workers who lost weekly unemployment checks when a recently passed state law conflicted with federal unemployment rules. Monday's exchange also reads like a preview of the coming U.S. Senate campaign in which Hagan, a Democrat, is seeking re-election and a leading lawmaker is her best known Republican rival. 

"This current General Assembly, controlled by the Republicans, knew that they would, in effect, cut off access to 170,000 North Carolinians, to the tune of $780 million," Hagan said.

Republicans blasted back, saying that it was Hagan who was responsible for the cutoff by not seeking a change in federal law.

“It's about time Kay Hagan finally admitted she could have helped North Carolina’s long-term unemployed, but the fact is she’s a year late and $600 million worth of benefits short," House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a joint statement.

Congress poised to act

Each state sets the rules for its own unemployment program, which it administers with oversight from the federal government. Taxes raised directly from businesses, based on the number of employees they have, fuel the trust fund that pays for those benefits.

After state benefits are exhausted, the federal government pays extended benefits for the long-term unemployed. 

During the most recent recession, North Carolina's unemployment trust fund was depleted, and the state borrowed more than $2.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. Due to that debt, taxes on employers will rise automatically every year until the money is repaid.

Lawmakers voted last spring to attack that debt by cutting back the state's benefits, reducing both the maximum weekly benefit and cutting the number of weeks someone could receive benefits form 26 to 20.

However, that change to state benefits ran up against a provision in federal law meant to make sure that states don't shift the burden of paying for unemployment to the federal government. That law says that states that change their unemployment rules, without permission from Congress, lose long-term federally funded unemployment benefits. 

Following the changes to state unemployment law taking effect on July 1, long-term unemployment benefits to North Carolina workers were cut off. Some 170,000 North Carolinians were affected by the change between July 1 and Dec. 31. 

Separately, the federal law that authorizes long-term unemployment benefits expired at the end of 2013. That change affected roughly 1.3 million Americans. The U.S. Senate is expected to take the first of a series of votes Monday night that could lead to the national program being extended.

Part of that pending legislation restores North Carolina's participation in the long-term unemployment program. 

Hagan takes credit for that provision, pointing to a letter she wrote to Senate leaders last month. But Republicans say she should not have had to write that letter at all. 

Trading blame

In their news release, Berger and Tillis blame Hagan for the loss of long-term benefits. They point to a letter they wrote in December 2012, notifying her that they planned to pursue changes to the state unemployment program. Four other states – Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island – had changes to their unemployment insurance programs "grandfathered" by Congress in February 2012 so that they would not lose benefits. 

North Carolina should have gotten the same consideration in 2013, the Republicans said, saying Hagan "dropped the ball."

But Hagan said that, at the time of that letter, no bill was officially filed. The General Assembly didn't go into session until last January. 

"When they requested that, it was a hypothetical bill. You cannot pass legislation in Congress based on a hypothetical bill that might or might not pass," she said. 

The debate is especially heated because Tillis is the best known member of a Republican primary field vying for the chance to replace Hagan. The debate over unemployment benefits seems to be one likely to crop up during the campaign. 

Asked if she thought the looming campaign was fueling the vitriol over this matter, Hagan replied, "somebody is usually running every other year, no matter what." 

Hagan herself was pointed in her remarks, repeatedly emphasizing it was Republican lawmakers who shoved through the unemployment change.


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  • 20K Jan 10, 2014

    Dems just trying to buy votes with more freebies!!!! That is exactly why our country is $17 Trillion in debt!!! It must stop NOW!!!

  • Hubris Jan 9, 2014

    Hagan has got to go!

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Jan 9, 2014

    "Choose your poison, Kay. Either admit you're a do-nothing Obama hack who hasn't accomplished anything...' - gswalker51

    Sorry gswalker, but your Republican US House of Representatives OWNS the term "do-nothing". :-) Be careful not to commit a copyright violation!

    "Let's all get behind these Tea Party Job Creators, we'll win by a LANDSLIDE." - alecarolina

    Um, ale, did anyone mention to you about the government shutdown? Did anyone mention to you about the Tea Party plans to default on our American federal debt obligation? You're tilting at windmills, dude!

  • gswalker51 Jan 9, 2014

    Why would Hagan have to push for restored jobless benefits in NC when her campaign ads talk about all the jobs she created? Choose your poison, Kay. Either admit you're a do-nothing Obama hack who hasn't accomplished anything and now you need emergency/continued unemployment relief or vote against this because you're confident you and Barry have turned the economy in the right direction and it isn't necessary anymore. Can't have it both ways.

  • Come On_Seriously Jan 9, 2014

    My bad- you have a very subtle sarcastic font. I'm with you now.

  • Come On_Seriously Jan 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Right, because the people who run the government best and most efficiently are the ones who hate government. #shutdownforever

  • Come On_Seriously Jan 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Really? What do you mean it never happened? Do you not even listen to your own party? Its one of the things the NC Rs are proudest of. They crowed about how it would turn NC around, but now they are playing to the ignorant to make you think its Hagan's fault that she didn't stop them on a federal level? Its the most ridiculous thing yet. Oh yes, and let's not forget that whole 'liberal media' that isn't concerned about news, or ratings, or profits- they're only in it for the politics. Right. Such a tired, graspng-at-straws statement.

  • ALECarolina Jan 9, 2014

    That's the best idea posted so far! We should support only Tea Party Patriots in 2014!

    Let's all get behind these Tea Party Job Creators, we'll win by a LANDSLIDE. Folks want their representatives to be ultraconservative, because our government runs so efficiently when we send anti-tax, pro-job creationists to DC and Raleigh!

  • katzpauz Jan 9, 2014

    I'm hoping Hagan is UNelected in Nov....and I hope the samething for Burr when he is up for UNelection.....if the Demo-publicans in DC hate the Tea Party movement, then we need to put Tea Party people in these seats!

  • hmhawthorne Jan 9, 2014

    Its funny though because both were in no hurry to vote on this issue til the election year hit now they are going to play a bunch of political games, yet these are peoples lives not a game! And if at some moment in time, they had to fight to take care of their family or struggle to pay rent and keep the power on they might actually get it! I know a good place to get money for everything they claim is unfunded, all congress, house, and president should take pay cuts then we would have a lot more money! They are catered to, let them go get their own coffee, clean their own house, and do all the things normal people have to do instead of the goverment funding all their expenses! I mean come on! Money is only an issue to them if it means taking away from struggling american people!