Sen. Kay Hagan gave a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday evening to criticize the North Carolina General Assembly’s action last summer that ended federal unemployment insurance benefits and call on the Senate to let the state become eligible for them once again.
Hagan said the legislature “slashed unemployment benefits, making North Carolina the only state in the nation to actually stop receiving federal emergency unemployment insurance. The only state!
“This irresponsible and cold-hearted action by the General Assembly has been devastating to the thousands of individuals and families across my state who were already struggling to make ends meet,” said Hagan, a Democrat who faces a tough re-election race in 2014.
Hagan drafted a measure that would restore North Carolina’s eligibility for the federal unemployment benefits. She thanked a group of fellow senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, who allowed her to add the provision to a bill that would extend the federal unemployment insurance program, which is due to expire Dec. 31. Reid has said the Senate will take up the extension in January.
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Hagan cited the cases of two women in North Carolina who lost federal unemployment benefits. Sydney Houston told a television station last summer that she feared her landlord would evict her.
And Sherrie Harmon wrote a letter to Hagan saying that she lost her job in a law firm and was taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte and looking for work when her unemployment benefits were stopped. Her husband also had lost his job. Hagan said Harmon told her: “We’re at risk of losing everything we’ve worked for in the 24 years we’ve been married. I am completely lost.”
“We have heard so many stories like this,” Hagan said.
North Carolina became ineligible for the federal unemployment program over the summer when the General Assembly reduced the amount of state benefits and the length of time that unemployed people can receive them. A federal regulation says that states cannot receive the extended federal unemployment benefits if they cut state benefits.
The Republican-controlled legislature argued that the changes were necessary to speed up the repayment of the more than $2 billion that the state owes the federal government. That money was borrowed to cover state-funded unemployment benefits after unemployment soared beginning in 2008.
North Carolina was the only state whose federal benefits were terminated.
As a result, federal taxes paid by people in North Carolina “are going to unemployed workers in every other state across the nation, except for North Carolina,” Hagan said.
“This is not only unfair, it is hurting my state, which continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 8 percent,” Hagan said. “Some of the rural counties in North Carolina are up to 14.5 percent.
“As the Senate considers an extension of the emergency unemployment insurance program, I believe it is crucial that we right the wrong that has been done to North Carolinians through no fault of their own.”