How are the jobless doing? State hits 'em again

February 5, 2013 

State House Republicans on Monday passed a measure to cut the maximum unemployment payment in North Carolina from $535 a week to $350 and to reduce the time for which people can receive the payments from 26 weeks to a “sliding scale” that would move with the state’s unemployment rate.

If the rate’s up, the 12- to 20-week limit would move to the longer time, and vice versa. This is a blow to the unemployed in North Carolina, the vast majority of whom are doing their best to find work.

The reason for this action is two-fold. It’s a misguided kiss to business owners who complain the higher benefit (the average is actually only about $300 a week) is costing them too much money and forcing layoffs. And it’s a slap at the unemployed because too many Republicans have decided that this is a group of layabouts who are living high on benefits and not bothering to look for work.

But Republicans couch their arguments by noting that the state has a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government, from which it has been borrowing money to cover its share of the unemployment benefits. Those benefits now amount to $25 million a week. And until the debt is paid, employers’ unemployment insurance payments are rising by $21 per employee per year.

But here’s the rub: The debt will be paid, if nothing changes and benefits continue as they are, by 2018. At that time, employers will see the additional money they’re paying drop away. This drastic action will cut the time to 2015. The price for that, however, with the additional reduction in time eligibility is an end to that $25 million a week coming to 80,000 workers in North Carolina, workers who use the money for necessities they buy from local merchants. It’s money in the state’s economy.

And when employers enjoy the reduction in their unemployment payments when the debt to the feds is gone, the reduction in benefits will be permanent. Will they then restore the shrunken benefits? It’s as if the Republicans are figuring if they have working people down, why not kick them again?

The state Senate now gets the bill. We don’t have our hopes up.

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