Political impasse now impacts 45,000 jobless

Posted May 18, 2011 3:05 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2011 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Thousands of North Carolina residents have been added to the ranks of those no longer receiving unemployment benefits because of a political stalemate, according to state officials.

About 45,000 people have lost extended benefits in the month-long standoff between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, up from an initial estimate of 37,000 people who lost the chance to receive 20 weeks of federal benefits after normal benefits and all other extensions have been exhausted.

Each week, about 2,100 people are running out of benefits, which would pay them an average of about $297 a week, officials said.

The U.S. Labor Department notified North Carolina officials in early April that the extended benefits program had to stop paying out after April 16 because the state's recent three-month average unemployment rate had improved from 2010 and 2009.

Fourteen other states have passed legislation to revise their formulas and keep the extended benefits flowing, but North Carolina Republicans and Perdue have been at loggerheads for a month.

The GOP has linked changing the formula to a 13 percent spending cut if a state budget isn't approved by the end of June. Perdue called that "extortion" and vetoed the bill.

Democrats fumed Wednesday that the benefits cut-off has been allowed to linger. House Minority Leader Joe Hackney said Republican leadership has rebuffed efforts to pass legislation to extend the benefits with no strings attached.

"This is day 43 of the refusal of the Republican House and Senate to consider a stand-alone unemployment benefits extension," said Hackney, D-Orange. "It's a shameful situation."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he met with Perdue Wednesday to hammer out an agreement on fixing the financially troubled State Health Plan, but the jobless benefits issue was never brought up.

"We have voted to extend the benefits. The governor has vetoed that extension of benefits. Obviously, the issue is still out there," said Berger, R-Rockingham. "The easiest way to deal with it is for four Democrats in the House to override the veto."

The people caught in the middle of the dispute – the growing ranks of people losing benefits – are growing increasingly frustrated by the stalemate.

"Y'all serve us. You're here for us," Greg Smith, an unemployed truck driver from Castalia, told lawmakers. "It's a bunch of adults acting like children. I don't get my way, so I'm not going to give you this."

Smith, 41, said he is three months behind on his mortgage, fears that he and his two children will wind up on the street and is even to the point of considering sharing shoes with his 14-year-old son to save money.

"I'm not a freeloader. I'm caught in a situation where I can't find a job," he said, noting that he is taking online classes to earn an associate's degree while he looks for work.