Jobless benefits cuts now official
The impact of the bill signed by new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory Tuesday that reduces the amount and length of unemployment benefits will depend on the direction of the economy, but it could impact more than 7,000 people in the greater High Point area.
McCrory signed the legislation, recently passed by the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly, that addresses a $2.5 billion debt that the state owes the federal government for jobless assistance. The debt in large part reflects the impact of the Great Recession, which has pushed North Carolina’s unemployment rate to historically high levels since 2008.
Provisions of the bill to reduce the maximum number of weeks for jobless benefits and the highest available weekly benefit amount don’t take effect until July 1. So how the economy, job market and state unemployment rate ebb and flow in the next four and a half months will determine any personal toll on breadwinners who would depend on weekly jobless benefits for income.
“The numbers will be in flux and will depend to a large degree on what happens to larger economic conditions between now and July 1,” said John Quinterno, an economic researcher out of Chapel Hill with South by North Strategies.
But during the first week of February, the N.C. Division of Employment Security paid out extended unemployment benefits to 4,548 residents of Guilford County, 1,379 people in Davidson County and 1,080 residents of Randolph County, according to Division of Employment Security figures. Across North Carolina, 79,476 people received some form of extended jobless benefits earlier this month, according to statistics from the state job service agency.
For Thomas Built Buses worker and local union leader John Crawford, the numbers take on a personal meaning. Crawford, president of United Auto Workers Local 5287 that represents Thomas Built Buses hourly employees, knows of co-workers who went long periods on unemployment assistance because of recessionary job cutbacks.
Crawford and several of his coworkers were part of a statewide campaign by opponents of the legislation, known as House Bill 4, which included a video with testimonials from Thomas Built Buses workers.
“We feel that workers take the brunt of saving the $2.5 billion,” Crawford told The High Point Enterprise.
For example, the legislation cuts the maximum weekly jobless payment from $535 to $350.
“We draw the max almost, because of the money we make,” Crawford said, referring to a jobless benefit for a Thomas Built Buses worker. “If you are used to making $1,000 a week, then on unemployment you go down to $350 a week, that’s a big adjustment. Personally, for workers at Thomas who have gone through it, they know how this bill would affect them.”
McCrory and Republican legislative leaders say they don’t relish the actions they have taken on unemployment insurance reform, but that tough steps must be taken now to ensure the long-term stability of the program. Republicans say the legislation will repay the federal debt by late 2015, three years earlier than if the bill wasn’t enacted.
“I will not outsource these tough decisions,” McCrory said in a statement.
In addition to cutting the maximum weekly benefit amount, the legislation will reduce the maximum number of weeks for jobless payments from 26 weeks to 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the severity of the state unemployment rate. Federal emergency jobless benefits also will cease July 1.
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