Dems, jobless call for benefits vote

Posted April 19, 2011 8:02 p.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2011 12:26 p.m. EDT

A handful of jobless North Carolinians joined Democratic legislators today to ask Republican leaders to quit playing politics with federal unemployment benefits.

H383, a measure that would allow 37,000 people to continue to receive jobless benefits, was vetoed by Governor Bev Perdue this weekend after Republican legislators tied it to a budget cut provision. GOP leaders said today they’ll try to override the veto, but House Republicans can’t do it without Democratic votes.

Senate Democrats today urged the GOP leadership to move ahead with an up-or-down vote on the benefit extension itself, with no political games. Senate Bill 584, waiting in committee, would do precisely that, said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt.

“There’s not one reason in the world to wait on an override when we have a bill sitting in committee we can run,” Nesbitt said. “These are very desperate people. Can you imagine the predicament they’re in after being unemployed for 79 weeks?”

Nesbitt and other Democrats also expressed concern that many of those whose checks are held up may also have been victims of the past weekend’s tornadoes.

Senator Ed Jones, D-Bertie, talked about the devastation in his district. “These people lost everything they had, and it wasn’t much to begin with,” he said. “We can’t get caught up in politics right now. We can make sure these folks are taken care of.” 

Nesbitt said it’s time for Republicans to separate the benefits, which cost the state nothing, from the state budget provision, which he called a “political ploy.” 

“If someone ties a love note to a nuclear bomb, do you take ‘em both?” Nesbitt asked. “I don’t think so. And that’s basically what they did.”

"More than just a game"

Meanwhile, out in front of the legislature, a sparsely-attended rally organized by the left-leaning NC Justice Center featured unemployed speakers from around the state.

Deborah Koontz from Winston-Salem said she’s just finishing an associate’s degree that should help her land a steady job for the first time in a year and a half. Without the extended benefits, she won't be able to finish. 

“I understand what Governor Perdue had to do,” Koontz said. “She was between a rock and a hard place. But we need those benefits.”

Concord resident Keith Fountain lost his telecom job in 2009. On Monday, he got his last check for the foreseeable future. He said he’s tired of being treated like a political toy. 

“This is more than just a game of politics or a game of chicken between the political parties,” Fountain said. “They’re affecting real lives and families. And you know, we deserve better than that from these guys.”

Watch the Fountain interview at right.