Raleigh, N.C. — State House and Senate Democrats are calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to save federal unemployment benefits scheduled to end July 1 for 71,000 people in North Carolina.
McCrory says that call won't be answered.
The benefits are ending because Republican leaders enacted legislation that cuts state unemployment benefits. It's part of an overhaul GOP leaders say will help state employers dig their way out of a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government, incurred when the state's unemployment fund ran out of money during the recession.
"I'm taking a risk," McCrory told WRAL News Wednesday, "but we're going to put more people into jobs as opposed to on government payrolls and paying debt that we don't have a way to pay back."
The overhaul takes effect next Monday. Under federal rules, states that change their unemployment benefits lose eligibility for federal extended benefits, paid to long-time jobless workers who have exhausted other assistance.
"It was known at that time by the leadership in the Senate and the House that, if they implemented the bill on July 1, that these 70,000 recipients would lose their money," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham. "Notwithstanding that information, the decision was made for July 1, so the benefits are cut off."
Democrats say GOP leaders should postpone the overhaul's effective date till Jan 1, 2014, when the federal aid is expected to end.
GOP leaders say postponing the date will delay the repayment of the debt, costing businesses more money in the long run.
Democrats point out the benefits are 100 percent federally funded, and cutting them off will mean the loss of more than $500 million, most of it flowing into the state's worst-hit economic areas.
"It doesn't add to our debt under the unemployment trust fund. It doesn't add to the amount we have to repay. It gives our economy some stimulus right now when it needs it. And it takes care of these families," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt. "It's mothers and dads and children out here that, due to the economy that they did not create, they cannot get a job right now, and I'm calling on the governor to step in and do something about this."
"We are not recovering, and what we're doing at this General Assembly is not creating jobs," said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood. "At least accept the emergency benefits between now and Jan. 1."
"The governor, he's in the saddle pretty good now. Step forward and lead on something," urged Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. "This is getting to be a mean, mean place for people at the bottom and working families in this state, and this is an opportunity for him to fix that."
House Minority Leader Larry Hall echoed that call.
"The governor can step in and show some leadership, show some compassion, or just show common sense to say we should take these funds and help North Carolinians," said Hall, D-Durham.
McCrory answered Wednesday that he is leading – just not in the direction Democrats want him to.
"I'm cutting up the credit card," he responded, adding that his administration is adding new workforce development programs to help unemployed workers.
"My goal is to get people into jobs, not to continue to be on unemployment," he said. "People who are requesting this change want to keep the status quo, and that status quo has not been very beneficial to our state or families or individuals for the past two or three years.
"The last time I checked, the president has not waived our debt," he added. "We have to pay it. Now, if the president is willing to waive our debt, $2.6 billion, then I'll talk to these Democrat leaders."