News & Observer comes out strong against U.I. cuts

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“Kicking the unemployed while they’re down”

The Raleigh News & Observer has accused Republican state lawmakers of treating jobless workers “more as enemies than victims,” calling, in a recent editorial, their proposal to enact devastating cuts to our state’s unemployment insurance system “petty, hurtful and unnecessary.”

“It will take a toll on families dependent on those benefits to stay in their homes and to put food on the table. And it seems to be advancing as the legislature prepares to begin its long session at the end of this month.” – News & Observer, 1/9/2013

The plan, which was hatched in secret meetings between Republican leaders and the N.C. Chamber of Commerce with zero public debate or input by jobless workers or advocates for the unemployed, was revealed before Christmas and voted out of committee last week.

The Chamber’s plan is to use the fact that North Carolina’s unemployment trust fund must repay $2.5 billion it had to borrow from Washington to cover claims during the Great Recession as an excuse to cut benefits for jobless workers. The cuts are steep – a 35% cut to the maximum weekly benefit, reducing the duration of benefits from 26 weeks to a few as 12, changing the formula for how benefits are calculated, and imposing repeated waiting weeks before benefits kick in.

As George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project said after the committee meeting last week, “No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely.”

In fact, such severe cuts defeat the entire purpose of unemployment insurance as (a) partial wage replacement to keep jobless workers afloat and searching for work and (b) a stabilizer for the economy.

As the News & Observer noted that it doesn’t have to be this way:

“Republicans in the General Assembly do not have to do this. The rush to pay off the debt is foolhardy if it means that families in this state who are trying to recover from a financial setback they could not have anticipated will themselves be set back, again.” – News & Observer, 1/9/2013