Not going back — GOP won't reconsider jobless benefits

Jul. 31, 2013 @ 08:41 AM

Local unemployment rates remained high in June as the state nears the first month since the end of extended jobless benefits, though Republican leaders say they aren’t thinking about revising the law that cut the length of benefits and the maximum weekly payout. 
Unemployment rates increased in 81 of North Carolina’s counties from May to June, decreased in 14 and remained the same in five, the N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Tuesday. The jobless rates in Davidson and Guilford counties increased in June, while Randolph County’s rate dropped slightly.
All 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas recorded increases. The High Point jobless rate remained nearly unchanged, from 9.5 percent in May to 9.6 percent in June.
The situation is better compared to the same time last year. Jobless rates increased in 12 counties, declined in 85 and remained unchanged in three, the Divison of Employment Security reports. One metropolitan area had an increase from last June, while 13 recorded decreases.
The unemployment rates in the city of High Point and Guilford, Davidson and Randolph counties all are lower than a year ago in June, according to Division of Employment Security figures.
Up until July 1, would-be breadwinners in the state who were out of work for the longest periods received extended unemployment compensation. But the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly cut the length and amount of jobless benefits.
Republican leaders say the unemployment benefit cuts were a difficult decision that had to be made as North Carolina deals with a $2.5 billion debt that the state owes the federal government for jobless assistance from the impact of the Great Recession. GOP leaders say they are having to make up for mismanagement of the state’s finances during the long control of state government by Democrats.
GOP Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t considering a special session on unemployment benefits because of the job market, said McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch. The General Assembly ended its 2013 session last week and won’t convene until mid-May of next year.
“It’s been less than a month since the UI (unemployment insurance) changes have been in full effect and more time is needed to see if work force development efforts in place will result in getting more people back to work. The best thing we can do to help unemployed North Carolinians is to help them find work,” Tronovitch told The High Point Enterprise.

But state Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, said he’s hearing from out-of-work constituents in High Point who are near panic because they’re without the income of jobless benefits but can’t find a job.
“These are the people who were in the recession before the recession,” Brandon said. “I’ve had at least 15 calls, and that’s unusual for my district, about the jobless benefits being cut off. It’s the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever witnessed as an elected official.”

In addition to limiting the number of weeks unemployed people can receive assistance, all weekly benefits are capped at $350, down from the previous level of $535.
The change restricts the length of unemployment benefits to a sliding scale of 13 to 20 weeks, down from previous level of six months, when the unemployment rate is higher than 9 percent. Benefits levels drop to between 12 to 19 weeks when the unemployment rate is between 8.5 and 9 percent, according to the Raleigh-based activist group N.C. Justice Center. The statewide jobless rate in June was 9.3 percent. | 888-3528