Smoke, but no fire on benefits standoff

Posted May 18, 2011

House and Senate Democrats called on Republican legislative leaders today to take action to allow tens of thousands of jobless North Carolina workers to receive extended federal benefits.

The Employment Security Commission now estimates more than 42,000 workers are without the federal checks, designed to help those who’ve been jobless for more than a year and a half. The checks stopped when lawmakers and the governor were unable to reach agreement on a necessary change to a formula in NC law that determines eligibility.

Republicans insist they’ve already approved the formula change. But the bill they sent Gov. Bev Perdue coupled the change with an unrelated provision that would have forced her to either sign their budget bill or accept a 13% spending cut next year. Perdue vetoed the measure, calling it “extortion,” and asking lawmakers to send her a “clean bill” without the political gamesmanship.

So far, Republicans have declined.

Democrats said today “clean bills” are ready and waiting in both the House and Senate should GOP leaders reconsider. “This is what we call a one-day bill,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney. “Let’s fix this right now.”

Senate Democrats have tried a parliamentary petition to force their fix bill, S584, out of committee, but have been unable to get a single Republican signature - even from Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, the bill’s co-sponsor.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt.

Democrats brought in Greg Smith, a Castalia man whose jobless benefits have been cut off by the stalemate. He says he and his kids will lose their house at the end of the month. He’s angry lawmakers can’t put politics aside for one day to help.

“Y’all serve us!” Smith said. “You’re here for us. Whether you’re Republicans, Democrats, whatever! You’re put up here to serve us.” Smith Dems EB Democrats press for extension of unemployment benefits

“But to sit here and cut our throats?” Smith continued. “45 thousand people. How many of those 45,000 people have children? I’ve got two. Explain to my child, my 14-year-old, what’s going to happen next month...Where are we gonna live?”

Watch the full Democratic press conference at right.

Afterward, Senate Leader Phil Berger said there’s “no specific plan” to take action to restore the benefits. 

He says House and Senate Republicans have already voted to extend them, and says he doesn’t understand why Perdue wouldn’t accept the budget cut attached to the measure. Berger presser May 18, 2011 Senate Leader Phil Berger's press conference, May 18, 2011

“The simplest way to deal with it would be for four Democrats in the House to agree to override the veto,” Berger said.

When asked for comment on Smith’s statement that the lawmakers work for the voters, Berger would only say that the governor does, too.

Watch Berger’s full press conference at right.

Late this afternoon, Nesbitt tried to add the benefits extension as an amendment to the state health plan fix. But Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who presides over the Senate, reluctrantly ruled Nesbitt’s amendment out of order because it didn’t relate to the substance of the bill.

Dalton said he hoped a stand-alone bill could still come forward to fix the unemployment formula, but "Rules are rules."

After session, Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said there might be some chance for a fix. “I really don’t know,” he said. “It’s something we still talk about. But this wasn’t the vehicle to do it today.”


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  • brianacondy May 24, 2011

    I am also a divorced mother of two children and the situation I find myself in is something new to me. I have always been what I consider a middle class hard worker. Paid my bills and enjoyed my life, lived in a nice neighborhood with good schools and neighbors. Since our politicans have decided to act like a child on the toy aisle when they do not get what they want, I struggle every day to determine how to pay for a car that I am sure I will lose, how to feed my duaghters, and to top it off how am I supposed to be hired for a job when I am soon to be homeless. We are not the bottom rung of society, we are intelligent hardworking people who have been given a bad hand. I hope they decide to get it together and do what is right for the people they serve.

  • dlphnwmn8 May 23, 2011

    Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Friday the formula change would be included with hundreds of other details in the roughly 300-page budget proposal the Senate will unveil next week.
    House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said Republicans are willing to compromise. House GOP members plan to develop legislation next week continuing to link the two issues, but demanding less from the governor. Thousands of state jobs are in the balance, Tillis said.
    Once again we are being used as human bargaining chips. See you at the legislative building 1 awesome dad and be sure to pack a lunch. Oh that'a right....we can't afford lunch.

  • haaali May 20, 2011

    Phil Berger is a coward. Stand up for your people.

  • 1 awesome Dad May 20, 2011

    My kids are hungy! Phil Berger would you mind changing your mind about the unemployed so I get to a job interview and get some groceries??

    I call and call but nothing there and I am sure nothing here.

  • 1 awesome Dad May 20, 2011

    When the republicans learned that Martin Nesbitt attempted to thwart them on the unemployment benefits legislation they were scrambling like a bunch of roaches so they did not have to vote on it.

    Thank God for Martin Nesbitt who is actually fighting for all he has for the unemloyed and leading to the full capacity that he can for us and that means all of us.

  • 1 awesome Dad May 20, 2011

    This republican parliamentarianan allowed the republicans to attach the state bill legislation to the bill concerning revising the formula to giving us the ability to continue to receive our unemployment. These two bills were not related to each other however the REPUBLICAN parliamentarian allowed this to happen.

    Now when Martin Nesbitt attached legislation concerning the unemployment insurance extension to the state health insurance reform bill the Republican parliamentarian refused it and would not allow that to happen.

    Folks remember Martin Nesbitt he'd make an awesome governor as he is demonstrating to the folks on unemployment right now.

  • 1 awesome Dad May 20, 2011

    Dont forget that the republicans placed a parliamentarian in with the Lt. Governor because the republicans felt that the democrats could not be trusted. As we all can see who in reality cannot be trusted according to their lack of ethics in their leadership

  • 1 awesome Dad May 20, 2011

    hernameisroxi please get in contact with me

  • haaali May 20, 2011

    Unbelievable that the republicans will not pass this bill. As a life long republican voter from a family of same, we as a whole, have decided to switch our affiliation to the party more inclined to help the people. I urge everyone of you republican voters, whose families have been affected by this, to do the same!

  • kmcneil65 May 20, 2011

    434,073 people unemployed in the state in March, 2900 jobs added in the private sector in April, 45,000 cut off from extended benefits,$297 average UE benefit,2100 added to the cutoff EB class every week, Entire legislature gone to the beach for an early weekend getaway....human suffering to the Heads of State(snake)..PRICELESS