Standoff over jobless benefits keeps 37,000 in limbo

Posted May 15, 2011 7:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2011 6:15 a.m. EDT

— A battle raging in the state legislature is more than a game of politics for a Garner woman, one of 37,000 unemployed people in the state whose jobless benefits were cut short last month.

It's her livelihood.

When Joyce Fowler lost her job as a manufacturing specialist two years ago, she wasn't surprised; she said she knew the economy was in trouble and that layoffs at her company were imminent. 

But she was blindsided by the news that she would no longer receive unemployment benefits.

"It was a big blow," Fowler said. "I actually did not think it was going to be as bad as it is."

In April, Republican leaders in the General Assembly passed a bill to keep federal funds flowing to those who have been unemployed for up to 99 weeks.

Gov. Bev Perdue, however, vetoed the measure because it contained the stipulation that if the state budget is not in place by June 30, Republicans would go forward with slashing her proposed budget by 13 percent.

Perdue called the bill "extortion."

"These are real people. You can't do this. It just makes me sick for North Carolina," she said.

After she lost her job, Fowler went back to school in the hopes of furthering her career and finding a better paying job. Now, she's working part-time, taking in other family members to help split housing expenses and living "meagerly" to make ends meet, she said.

"Until they have walked in the shoes which we have walked and faced the things we have faced, they don't know what it's like," Fowler said.

She said she hopes the political standoff ends soon.

"A lot of these people do not have a year. A lot of these people do not have a month... to wait on that," she said. "If they're going to do anything, it needs to be done immediately."

Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said extending jobless benefits and getting an approved state budget in place are both top priorities for Republican lawmakers.

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to improve North Carolina's business environment so that those without work can ultimately find a job.