Local News

Stimulus will help N.C. pay unemployment benefits

Posted February 19, 2009 1:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 20, 2009 8:01 a.m. EST

— The federal stimulus will give millions of dollars to help the state Employment Security Commission meet record demand during the recession, commissioners said Thursday.

The ESC's ability to pay benefits has been strained by the state's highest unemployment rate in 25 years – 8.7 percent in December, ESC Deputy Chairman David Clegg said.

"We need help on many levels, simply because we're dealing with an unprecedented capacity issue," Clegg said.

The stimulus plan will give $7 billion from the Federal Unemployment Account to help states pay for unemployment benefits. North Carolina expects to receive $205 million.

ESC commissioners said that North Carolina can also expect $14.6 million from the Unemployment Insurance Administration's State Grants Program and $10.9 million from the Employment Service and Re-employment Activity programs run by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Another portion of the federal stimulus plan will give unemployed workers an additional $25 a week. The ESC is working on a computer program to administer that benefit and, at the earliest, could begin distributing it in two weeks, Clegg said.

"It doesn't seem to help very much, but every little bit is better than nothing," said Paul Miranda, a laid-off worker.

The ESC pays out more than $25 million a day as nearly 400,000 North Carolinians seek unemployment benefits.

Last week, the agency borrowed $13 million from the federal government, the first time in seven years the state got a government loan to bolster its unemployment trust fund.

"We'll probably continue to do that, probably on a weekly basis," Clegg said.

Laid-off electrician Johnny Jensen said he can use every bit of help while he searches for a new job.

"To see that all your technical skills and with the profession you have, you've just been sent down the road so easily, it hurts," Jensen said. "I will try with every endeavor to find a solution to survive."