McCrory endorses GOP unemployment legislation

jfrank@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

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Gov. Pat McCrory, left, talks Monday with Alonzo Thomas, who recently found a job through one of the state jobs programs, as the governor speaks about improvements that have been made in the state’s efforts to find work for the unemployed during a press conference at Division of Employment Security offices in Raleigh.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Returning to one of his administration’s top priorities, Gov. Pat McCrory outlined legislative proposals Monday that he says are needed to reduce wasteful spending at the state’s unemployment agency.

The Republican endorsed legislation drafted by state lawmakers to require a photo identification to receive unemployment insurance, codifying what is current practice at the Division of Employment Security.

The agency is also asking lawmakers to toughen the requirements job seekers must meet to receive unemployment benefits. The new eligibility rules would make unemployed workers contact five potential employers a week instead of the current two.

“We are cutting down on unemployment insurance fraud,” McCrory said. “You have to show that you’re treating finding a job as a job.”

The proposals are the latest in a series of announcements McCrory is making to outline his legislative agenda ahead of the General Assembly’s return Wednesday.

On the new changes, Republican lawmakers are aligned with the governor on these measures and another to restrict the public notices of contested unemployment cases. A committee studying the issue supported draft legislation.

But the two are at odds concerning who should appoint the members to the state’s Board of Review, which handles appeals of unemployment board decisions. McCrory has sole authority to appoint the board’s three members but a draft bill would give one of those appointments to both the House and Senate.

McCrory made the agency a focus in his first year in office, pushing to address the state’s $3 billion debt to the federal government for unemployment benefits and debuting a program called NCWorks to link employers with job seekers.

In an event at the agency’s office in Raleigh, McCrory and Dale Folwell, the assistant commerce secretary who oversees the division, touted the achievements in the administration’s first 14 months.

The state’s unemployment debt is now down to $1.1 billion, thanks in part to cuts in benefits, and North Carolina’s 6.3 percent jobless rate saw one of the fastest declines in the nation in the past year. The claims backlog also is lower, moving from 280 days to 34 days for some appeals cases.

“That should be the headline,” McCrory said. “That is absolutely incredible customer service.”

In McCrory’s first year, the focus spotlighted cuts to the safety net for jobless and low-income residents, as critics blasted the Republican-led legislature and governor for cutting employment benefits, blocking the expansion of Medicaid and allowing a tax credit for the working poor to expire.

McCrory said the new measures weren’t designed to make it tougher to get benefits from the state but ensure the integrity of the program.

Folwell said the federal government requires a photo ID to get a job, so it’s natural to make it a requirement for unemployment assistance.

The agency is also now requiring benefit applicants to appear for an interview within the first four weeks of receiving assistance.

At the Raleigh event, McCrory featured the stories of two men who were recently unemployed and found jobs with the help of the state’s career centers. Both said they lost unemployment checks before they found jobs, dropped from the federal program after McCrory signed legislation last year to cut benefits.

One of them, Alonzo Thomas, a 55-year-old living in Raleigh, said “things were getting tight” at home without the benefits.

He received an associate’s degree from Wake Tech with the help of a scholarship from the federal Workforce Investment Act, a program touted by President Barack Obama in the 2012 campaign, and started a new job in January.

“I wouldn’t be in this position without that program,” he said.

Thomas said he understands McCrory had to “make some tough choices” to get the state out of debt and he commended the governor. “If it improves the whole, that’s the key,” he said.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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