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House passes unemployment insurance rewrite

Posted February 5, 2013

— The state House on Tuesday passed a sweeping rewrite of North Carolina's unemployment insurance law, voting 77-42 to cut the value and duration of weekly benefits.

As with an earlier debate on the bill Monday, Republican sponsors of the legislation turned back Democratic amendments to make the bill more generous toward unemployed workers in some circumstances. The measure now goes to the state Senate.

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, said she mistakenly voted yes on the bill on Monday night.

"Now I want to tell you why, why it is important that I vote 'no' today," Farmer-Butterfield said. "This is not a balanced approach....People affected by this bill are unemployed through no fault of their own."

Farmer-Butterfield and her fellow Democrats said the bill asked unemployed workers to give up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefits while asking only $20-plus million in concessions from businesses, who pay state unemployment taxes. Businesses argue they are being hit hard by federal unemployment taxes as well. 

"It isn't that out of balance," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, arguing the worker-versus-business assertion was a false dichotomy. It was the businesses, he said, that paid for the benefits the workers were using. 

Blust and other Republicans said the state can no longer afford benefits as generous as the $535 per week currently offered. The new maximum benefit would be $350 per week under the bill. 

"The benefits we currently pay with the situation we have are not sustainable," said Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg.

North Carolina owes the federal government more than $2.5 billion that was borrowed to pay state-funded unemployment claims. The bill reduces the maximum weekly benefits and raises state unemployment insurance taxes in order to repay that debt more quickly.

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, offered an amendment to allow more workers to claim unemployment. The current bill cuts down on the "good cause" reasons that justify claiming unemployment. Glazier's amendment would have added back family hardships as a good cause.

For example, Glazier said, workers who had to leave their jobs to care for a sick child or other family member would be eligible for benefits. Under the current bill, those who have to leave a job because they cannot work a particular shift due to a sick family member would not be eligible.

Glazier argued that his amendment would have little financial impact because only one-tenth-of-one-percent of those who file for unemployment use such family hardship reasons. 

But Republicans said the bill was carefully crafted during the fall and winter and should not be changed. 

"I reluctantly stand again to ask you to vote no on this amendment because we need to keep this bill in tact and let it go into effect and then surely we can go back and look at all the consequences," said Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, the bill's primary sponsor. 

Both the Glazier amendment and another that would have raised the duration of benefits for workers who lost work as part of a mass plant closing failed along largely party-line votes. 

Republicans argued that the bill would free businesses from paying taxes to repay the federal debt more quickly. That, in turn, would spark job creation.

"When do you expect to see the jobs from this bill materialize?" Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, asked Brawley.

The Mecklenburg Republican replied, "I can't trace you the specific jobs but I can tell you that the macroeconomics scales well...I do know that businesses that are losing money lay people off."

The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on a companion unemployment bill for Wednesday.

Gov. Pat McCrory backs the legislation, saying it would put North Carolina on par with neighboring states and help people find jobs.

"We've been implementing the current system for a long time, and North Carolina remains the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country," McCrory said. "So, I'm not going to continue to implement strategies that don't work. We're going to try new strategies to get people to work. That's our goal."

168 Comments

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  • NCPictures Feb 7, 12:25 p.m.

    "Yeah imagine all the US sinking into the 19th century again rather than just NC. Roll on 2014 and 2016, hopefully we can rid ourselves of the cancer of the stupid party." ---Grand Union

    Right, because nothing could go wrong with a one party system, right comrade?

  • lessismore Feb 7, 10:25 a.m.

    gcmann....it's not governmenst responsibility to provide money to anyone. Capitalism is being replaced with socialism....that's a bad thing. People need to be responsible for themselves....no one is kicking anyone who is down. If I lose my job I look for another one....that's my responsibility. Plenty of part time jobs for people who are willing to work. But, it's easier to sit on the couch and complain and believe government is responsible to support you. Get a job...there are plenty of them...so says Obama, the economy is roaring back, everthing is rosy...so says Obama.

  • readit Feb 7, 8:39 a.m.

    These benifits are supposed to help people while they look for a new job. People can't expect to get the same pay rate as before. Part time work should be required if people can't find full time work after a certain period. I live off less than $350 a week or every two weeks, its hard sure but it can be done. Just find a temporary job while better things are searched for, at least you can help support yourself. There are people working 3 or 4 part time jobs to help support themselves and their families.

  • ghettovegas111 Feb 7, 4:37 a.m.

    The Republicans are so lame. Always worrying about where the money will come from. Relax. The government can print all it wants. Let not your heart be troubled.

  • gcmann Feb 6, 8:05 p.m.

    To put things in perspective -
    Last check, NC governor's salary was 140K/year, above the US average for governers. This does not count the perks that amount to way more than the salary.
    Our ex-governor's wife is collecting 90K/year for doing nothing.
    Other state officials (lieutenant gov., Sec. of State etc.)make over 123K/year, again not counting perks. You should get the idea.

    I'm afraid you will see much more crime, more businesses fail, more foreclosures, especially in NC areas where the unemployment rate is over 20 percent. People not predisposed to crime will do what it takes to feed their family.

    There are better ways to handle this debt other than kicking people when they are down.

  • wilson321 Feb 6, 3:46 p.m.

    Hey, according to Obama we're in a strong recovery! The unemployed should be able to find work in no time if you listen to the Democrats. After all we're adding almost 160K jobs a month! Hey, happy days are here again.....

  • Grand Union Feb 6, 12:03 p.m.

    "Where are the jobs for all those people who now can not even collect unemployment when they get laid off? I guess it will just be more people to apply for food stamps, Medicaid, and public assistance. More money will be spent by the state to help children and adults in need."

    yes but taxpayers will be paying for them not Companies who pay for Unemployment insurance. Is it still not clear to you who is running the State now?

  • Grand Union Feb 6, 12:01 p.m.

    "Obama said we are in a recovery, plenty of jobs. He doesn't talk about the economy or jobs any more. Why is everyone concerned with unemployment benefits????"

    because this is a State change not a federal one, many are still out of work and few of us can say we will never be unemployed.

    " Just listen to Obama....his only concerns now is immigration, gays, religion, and guns. Why is everyone so concerned with things Obama is not concerned about???"

    because this is a State issue and this is a State forum.......if you want to see people being concerned about national issues click on the Nation or Politics headers.

  • Grand Union Feb 6, 11:58 a.m.

    "Folks, just imagine if Romney had won!!"

    Yeah imagine all the US sinking into the 19th century again rather than just NC. Roll on 2014 and 2016, hopefully we can rid ourselves of the cancer of the stupid party.

  • Grand Union Feb 6, 11:55 a.m.

    "I actually heard a man say, "I found a job, but it pays less than unemployment benefits, do I have to take it, will I lose my unemployment benefits if I don't". lessismore"

    I read you saying that Obama was giving Sherman tanks to the Egyptians so doe that make that true too? And since there are still way more unemployed than there are jobs...that job still got filled, probably with someone more suited to it than someone who used to earn multiples of the salary.

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