Our View: Unemployment system revisions needed

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 01:40 AM

Legislation is moving through the N.C. General Assembly to deal with concerns about the stability of the state’s unemployment system and to repay $2.5 billion the state owes the federal government. Not unexpectedly, the measure is causing some partisan political strife.
North Carolina owes the federal government $2.5 billion, which it loaned the state to pay unemployment compensation to Tarheel workers impacted by the Great Recession. Because of the recession, the state’s unemployment fund has taken a hit, and legislators are trying to fix that, too, in addition to figuring out how to repay the debt.
A Republican-sponsored bill currently undergoing House scrutiny was expected to be voted on Monday night and another vote was expected possibly today. If approved by the House, the bill would go to the Senate. The bill would increase the amount businesses contribute to the unemployment fund and reduce the maximum unemployment payment to individuals. It also would reduce the number of weeks a person could receive benefits.
Democrats and others opposing the bill criticize the maximum benefit reduction from the current $535 weekly to $350 a week. They even challenged Gov. Pat McCrory, who supports the bill, to live a week on $350. The opponents’ rhetoric falls short, however, when one considers that getting the maximum payment currently requires a salary of $55,640, and the average payment is $290. Also, the idea is not “to live on” the benefit but to temporarily “get by on” the payment. The primary focus for the worker, for businesses and for state officials should be to get that unemployed person back to work.
In another aspect of this matter, we’ve always wondered why the payment is based on a person’s salary. Shouldn’t the amount be set at a level determined to be sufficient for a certain size family instead of previous income of the individual? But that idea has never gained traction with legislators in the past. We wish someone in Raleigh would examine that idea to see if such an approach to setting a payment level would be feasible.
For now, however, this legislation is intended to stabilize and rebuild the state’s unemployment fund and to repay the federal government. We must aim to do that through program modifications such as these — which, granted, will have financial impact on some people and businesses. But at the same time, state officials and businesses must continue to aim for improving the state’s overall business climate so North Carolina’s unemployed can get back to work.