Time is running out for 70,000 jobless workers
Federally paid extended unemployment compensation will end on July 1 because of changes made to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system by state lawmakers earlier this year. Seventy-thousand jobless workers will be affected immediately, but the federal Labor Department estimates some 170,000 people in all will have lost access to these crucial benefits through the end of 2013.
State lawmakers had a chance to postpone the effective date of their cuts to unemployment benefits by advancing a bill before a legislative deadline two weeks ago. Republican leaders, who control the state legislature, opted not to bring the bill up for a vote, a failure we and the NC Justice Center blasted as taking “an extremist policy position, one that no other state has taken, and all at the expense of struggling workers, their families and the state’s economy.”
NC Policy Watch reports that the agency responsible for implementing the cuts and running our state’s unemployment insurance program, the NC Division of Employment Security, has only just begun to let know people who will be affected when North Carolina hits the unemployment cliff on July 1.
“We’re really desperate as to what’s going on here,” said JoAnn Loggins, of Morganton, who learned about the cut-off through a friend. “If they cut off unemployment, I’m going to be devastated; I’m going to be homeless.”
Loggins, 69, cares for her mentally disabled granddaughter and has been without a job since February when she was laid off from her position handling billing for a trucking company.
The changes are a result of a far-reaching law passed and signed this February to repay money North Carolina borrowed during the recession and restructure the state’s unemployment system. The new law caps weekly benefits at $350, down from the current $535, and limits the length of unemployment to a sliding scale of 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment, down from six months, when the unemployment rate is above 9 percent.
It will drop to between 12 to 19 weeks of benefits when the unemployment rate is between 8.5 and 9 percent, as it is now.
The state’s seasonably adjusted unemployed rate for April was 8.9 percent, the lowest it’s been since January 2009 but still the fifth-highest in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The stubbornly high unemployment rate comes as no surprise to Loggins, the unemployed worker from Morganton. With 25 years in the trucking industry, she’s sent out resumes and attended job retraining classes but hasn’t been able to find replacement work. She suspects employers overlook her because of her age.
“Why would you hire someone that should already be retired?,” she said. “But I still need to work and I can learn anything.”