Perdue restores benefits

Posted June 3, 2011 7:51 p.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2011 8:42 p.m. EDT

Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order today restoring extended federal benefits for about 50,000 jobless North Carolinians.

The problem that stopped the benefits in the first place was a legal formula that needed to be changed.  From the time the problem became apparent, back in April, the governor's office said the legislature would need to make the change because the formula was written into law. 

That kicked off weeks of political hardball between Perdue and Republican legislative leaders, with both sides accusing one another of "playing politics" and "taking the unemployed hostage."  

Republican leaders, after refusing to send the governor a stand-alone bill to make the change, decided to attach it to their budget proposal, which is expected to land on Perdue's desk tomorrow. 

Today, the Governor announced she had made the change herself by executive order. And many of those jobless people whose assistance checks were cut off weeks are now wondering what took so long. 

Perdue's press secretary Chris Mackey explained earlier today that the governor had been waiting on Republicans to step up.  

“I think she really gave the Republican leaders a chance to do the right thing," Mackey said. "She’s tried to work with the General Assembly since April. She tried to get them to pass a clean bill.”

But if she had this option, I asked, why wasn't it explored weeks ago, when the stalemate first started? 

“She gave the Republican leaders a chance to do the right thing, and they didn’t. So she found another solution,” Mackey said.

At an event this afternoon, Perdue explained that she had consulted with the Department of Labor, who told her just yesterday that her executive order would be legally sufficient to get the checks flowing again.

The timing couldn't have been better for the governor, who would have begun to take political heat tomorrow to move quickly on her budget decision, since unemployment benefits were waiting on her signature.     

The Employment Security Commission said on its website this afternoon that it "anticipates paying a majority of those eligible claimants by next week."

Senate Leader Phil Berger issued a statement today, saying he's having nonpartisan staff look into whether or not Perdue has the power to make the change, after all.  

"We hope that, in a desperate effort to claim credit for what’s going to occur because of the bipartisan budget, she is not putting the benefits of tens of thousands of unemployed North Carolinians at risk by using a questionable legal gimmick," Berger's statement said. "If she really thinks this is appropriate, she shamefully did nothing for seven weeks."