Lawmakers look to tie jobless benefits to community service

Posted May 9, 2011 6:16 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2011 7:57 p.m. EDT


— A bill proposed by more than a dozen Senate Republicans essentially tells many of North Carolina's unemployed to find a job or prepare to volunteer.

Senate Bill 737 would require people receiving jobless benefits to perform at least five hours of community service a week if they are on unemployment for more than eight weeks. After a year of benefits, the service require increases to 10 hours per week.

People would be allowed to volunteer for nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army, a church or other organized religious entity or a governmental entity or public organization like a school, library or parks program.

Under the proposal, they would have to supply written verification of their service to the state Employment Security Commission every week or a written doctor's note confirming that they were too ill to work.

"I'm not sure the feds would approve of this," employment attorney Jack Nichols said Monday.

Nichols, a Democrat, said the state only operates the unemployment program for the federal government and doesn't fund it. He questions the legality of the state making changes to how a federal program is run.

"It's whether or not it's going to bring down the whole program because of this, that's my concern," he said.

Senate Democrats haven't taken a stance on the bill, spokesman Jeff Giertz said, adding that the bill sponsors should be more concerned about the plight of the roughly 37,000 North Carolina residents who recently lost their unemployment benefits because the state failed to adjust a formula used to calculate extended eligibility.

Republican lawmakers said they believe the legislation would help the state, communities and the jobless.

Several people on unemployment agreed.

"I think it would put a lot back in the community," Mike Keaney said.

Norman Davis has been volunteering at an ESC office in Raleigh for the past year while he continues to look for work. He said he had to cut back his volunteer hours from 40 to 20 per week because he wasn't putting in enough time on his own job search.

"I never wanted to get out of the mode of getting up in the morning and going to work," Davis said.

He said he learned computer skills at the ESC, and he finds volunteering therapeutic.

"It helps me being around other people. (If you) stay home, you go stir crazy," he said.