Business

ESC processing checks for restored jobless benefits

Posted June 6, 2011 11:47 a.m. EDT
Updated June 6, 2011 6:34 p.m. EDT

Unemployment

— The state Employment Security Commission has already started processing checks for people whose unemployment benefits were cut off in April, officials said Monday.

After seven weeks of political wrangling with Republican lawmakers, Gov. Beverly Perdue issued an executive order Friday extending federally funded unemployment benefits for an extra 20 weeks.

The ESC immediately starting processing checks, and many will start arriving in people's mailboxes this week, agency spokesman Larry Parker said.

The aid is retroactive to the April 16 cutoff, Parker said.

"It's a life line to these people. Every week they have to make a bill payment somehow, and now that these benefits are restored, they are going to be able to do that," he said. "That money not only pays their bills, but it also goes back into the local economy."

The U.S. Department of Labor ordered the state to halt the extended benefits program in April because of improvement in the statewide unemployment rate. The program provided an additional 20 weeks of federal benefits after people had exhausted all other state and federal unemployment benefits.

The Republican majority in the General Assembly passed a bill that would have allowed the benefits to start flowing again, but they linked it to cuts in state spending if a state budget wasn't passed by June 30. Perdue vetoed the measure, calling it "extortion."

Lawmakers now have rolled the extension into the $19.7 billion budget that they passed late last week.

Perdue has criticized the spending plan because of the education cuts it includes, and she is considering whether to veto it.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said it's unclear whether the governor had the authority to order the resumption of the benefits without legislative action, but Perdue issued a statement Monday assert that her actions were legal.

"It would have been better if the legislature had done the right thing and sent me a bill that would extend these benefits as I repeatedly requested, but they repeatedly refused," she said. "So. I ultimately found a way to do this myself."

Perdue's staff said the U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the executive order and approved the language in it.

"Given the demonstrated willingness of the Republican leaders in the legislature to use unemployed workers as political pawns, I will not be surprised if they try to stop these benefits from reaching unemployed North Carolinians," the governor said.

People with questions about the extended benefits can call the ESC toll-free at 1-866-795-8877 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. this week.