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Tornado victim also caught in political storm over unemployment

Posted April 20, 2011 4:52 p.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2011 6:51 p.m. EDT

— The Raleigh woman whose home provided the backdrop Wednesday for Gov. Beverly Perdue's update on tornado recovery efforts is dealing with a pending loss of unemployment benefits in addition to storm damage.

"I have other people's lives in my hands as well, and you know, it's just one thing after another, one thing after another," said Rose Morales, who cares for her grandchildren.

Several large trees fell on her apartment during Saturday's storms, and the building is now deemed unsafe, which will force her to move.

Morales lost her job late last year and has been receiving unemployment benefits since then. Because of political wrangling between Perdue and Republican lawmakers, those benefits will end about five months earlier than expected.

Perdue on Saturday vetoed legislation that would have kept benefit checks flowing because Republicans lawmakers tacked it on to a bill that would have forced a 13 percent budget cut. She called that "extortion."

North Carolina is among about three dozen states in which an extended benefits program of up to 20 weeks of compensation was created as a way to lessen the pain for the long-term unemployed caught in the recession's massive job losses.

The benefits kick in only after regular jobless benefits and all federal extensions – a total of 79 weeks – have been exhausted.

The U.S. Labor Department notified North Carolina officials two weeks ago that the extended benefits program had to stop paying out after Saturday because of a drop in the state's unemployment rate. About 37,000 people were immediately cut off.

Lawmakers revised the formula to keep the extended benefits going, but Republican leaders tied the move to passage of a budget bill.

"Hopefully, the government can do something different to bring these benefits back," Morales said.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the General Assembly tried to address the problem with jobless benefits and doesn't plan to craft another solution following the veto.

"We've sent a bill that fixes the problem. We've encouraged the governor to sign it," Berger said. "It appears that the governor's position constantly is you do it the way she wants to do it, or it doesn't get done."

Perdue said she wants "this distraction to combine issues" to be over. Morales said she just wants the political posturing to end.

"All we can do is just hope and pray that it'll get better because, if somebody doesn't help us, we'll be homeless for real," she said.