Some N.C. jobless to get extended unemployment benefits

Obama's signature on a bill extending unemployment benefits is good news for unemployed North Carolinians whose benefits run out this year. It's unclear, though, what will happen to those whose benefits run out next year.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Unemployed North Carolinians whose benefits run out this year got an extension when President Barack Obama signed a $24 billion economic stimulus bill Friday.

The state Employment Security Commission, though, must await guidance to determine who is eligible. It's also unclear what will happen to those whose benefits run out next year.

Awaiting those decisions are people like James Hill, a service technician who has qualified for two benefits extensions since he was laid off in early 2008. The ESC couldn't tell him Friday whether he would get the latest one.

"To be truthful, I'm a little frustrated," Hill said. "It's real hard, having to do without a lot of stuff. It's down to bare needs. Whatever we need, that's what we get."

With an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent in September, North Carolina qualifies as one of the harder-hit states under the bill. That allows the unemployed to get up to 20 more weeks of benefits.

In states with an unemployment rate below 8.5 percent, the unemployed can get an additional 14 weeks.

The extra 20 weeks could push the maximum a person in a high unemployment state could receive to 99 weeks, the most in history.

Unemployment checks generally are for about $300 a week. The extension will cost about $2.4 billion and be paid for by also extending a federal unemployment tax on employers.

In North Carolina, 8,131 people exhausted their unemployment benefits from late August to late October, according to ESC statistics. Without the most recent extension, approximately 13,000 more people would have run out of benefits in the next two months.

"And that's not good coming right before the Christmas holidays, because these are stressful times in the best of circumstances," ESC chair Moses Carey said.

Determining who qualifies for the extension depends on a complicated formula from the U.S. Department of Labor, he said. It could take up for a month for the labor department to publish the new rules.

"We can't make any definitive statement until we get those rules," Cary said. "We don't make rules. We just apply them."

The new legislation applies only to benefits that are exhausted this year. Extending benefits that run out in 2010 will take additional legislation, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

Without additional legislation, the ESC estimates that approximately 112,000 North Carolinians will exhaust their unemployment benefits in the first six months of 2010.

In the meantime, Hill said he's hoping for a new job or new benefits extension to support his two young grandchildren he recently adopted.

"I ain't worried about me," he said. "It just want a job where I can raise them, get them to school, and I'll be all right."


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