Some jobless in NC could see benefits return next week

Posted June 4, 2011 1:00 p.m. EDT


— Some North Carolina residents could see unemployment benefits again as early as next week after they were abruptly cut off in April, according to the state Employment Security Commission.

After seven weeks of political wrangling with Republican lawmakers, Gov. Bev Perdue issued an executive order Friday extending federally funded unemployment benefits up to 99 weeks.

"The ESC is working quickly to respond to the order and get benefits to those who are eligible. We anticipate being able to pay a large majority of those claimants who are eligible by next week," ESC Chair Lynn Holmes said in a statement Friday.

Perdue's office that about 20,000 people will receive checks next week and the rest will get benefits in eight to 10 days.

The ESC cautioned, though, that the process for re-establishing eligibility will "require some time."

The ESC call center (1-866-795-8877) will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. June 6-10.

The executive order gives some political coverage to Perdue as she considers whether to veto a Republican-drafted state budget that contains a provision to extend the jobless benefits.

The problem first arose in April when the federal government said that North Carolina's unemployment rate had improved enough so that residents were no longer eligible to receive unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks.

Then, the Governor's Office said the state Legislature would need to make the change because the formula was written into law.

The Republican majority in the General Assembly passed a bill changing the formula but linked it to a stipulation that if a state budget wasn't passed by June 30, Perdue's proposed budget would go into effect with a 13 percent cut. She vetoed the measure, calling it "extortion."

Perdue said she waited so long to issue an executive order because she "wanted to be a team player" with the Legislature. She consulted with the U.S. Labor Department and got the legal OK to use an executive order Thursday, she said.

"They were holding me hostage, but they were really holding 47,000 people hostage. So, yeah, finally I am going to act on my own," Perdue said Friday.

Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger said he's having nonpartisan staff look into whether Perdue has the authority to make the change.

"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 said in a statement. "If she really thinks this is appropriate, she shamefully did nothing for seven weeks."