Updated: See below
Long-term jobless North Carolinians who felt like political hostages last summer could find themselves in the same boat once again unless a change is made in the state’s unemployment rules.
As of last week, extended benefits recipients who visited the Division of Employment Security’s website got a nasty shock – a red-letter warning that their benefits were expected to run out on Jan 28th.
Late in December, Congress took action to extend federal funding for extended benefits for two months. The federal money is available, but a change needs to be made at the state level to make North Carolina eligible to claim it.
Last spring, Democratic Governor Bev Perdue and Republican legislative leaders got into a heated political battle over exactly the same problem. That standoff lasted seven weeks, affecting nearly 50,000 people.
On June 3rd, 2011, Perdue ended the stalemate by issuing an executive order, EO93, making the rule change needed to get the federal benefits flowing again.
At the time, Senate Leader Phil Berger challenged the governor’s authority to change the criteria without legislative approval. But Perdue press secretary Chris Mackey said federal Labor officials had advised Perdue the action was legal.
Perdue’s executive order set an expiration date for the change in criteria, as did fixes in six other dates. It expired on December 31st, 2011.
At this point, according to Larry Parker with the DES, no one has been affected. But as of January 28th, some 25,000 North Carolinians stand to lose their state-administered extended benefits – the last avenue of help available to those who’ve exhausted their other benefits – unless a fix is made by that date.
It’s not clear why Governor Perdue hasn’t simply issued another Executive Order to extend the change.
Speaker Tillis’s Chief of Staff Charles Thomas said “it’s possible” state lawmakers could call themselves back into session to deal with the issue.
Parker says DES is “evaluating all legislative and executive options” for a fix. He’s hoping to have something more to add on the matter by the end of the day.
The most recent figures for North Carolina put the jobless rate at 10 percent. New figures are expected out January 24th.
Update #1: House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger released this joint statement late Wednesday afternoon:
“The General Assembly is ready to work with Gov. Perdue to resolve this issue. If Gov. Perdue believes an immediate fix is required, then we encourage her to take the appropriate action and call the General Assembly back for a special session.”
Update #2: At 5:30 this afternoon, Perdue's office announced she had signed Executive Order 113, extending a change to state law for as long as is necessary to capture the state's portion of shared federal unemployment emergency relief:
Middle class families across North Carolina are working harder than ever, but many are still having a tough time. I signed an executive order today that will extend temporary benefits to approximately 25,000 unemployed North Carolinians. In addition to providing desperately needed financial help to the families that actually receive the benefits, these federal dollars will help all North Carolinians because the money will circulate throughout the economy and help support large and small businesses across the state. To be clear, we’re able to achieve these results with no impact on the state budget because all extended benefits resulting from this order will be paid with 100% federal money.
Perdue was one of the Democratic governors who signed a December 15th letter urging Congress to extend the benefits. Congress approved the extension December 23rd, 2011.