Only bullies kick people while they are down

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Governor signs unemployment insurance cuts into law

On Tuesday, Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the what the National Employment Law Project (NELP) called the most severe cuts to unemployment insurance made by any state in the nation, in the state with the 5th highest unemployment rate in the nation at 9.2% with over 400,000 people looking for work. Neither members of the media nor the public were invited to the bill signing, which was fitting considering the scheme was drafted in secret and rushed to passage with scant public comment.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the governor chose to put his signature to this bill privately, behind closed doors, mirroring the manner in which the legislation was crafted by business groups led by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and Republican lawmakers.” — National Employment Law Project, 2/19/2013

“Last night in his State of the State speech, Gov. McCrory acknowledged that “too many are hurting” in North Carolina. Yet today Gov. McCrory added to the hurt by signing into law the most drastic cuts to unemployment benefits that any state has ever enacted,” said state AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, MaryBe McMillan.

Cut and capped are the max weekly payment from $535 down to $350 and the duration of payments from 26 weeks to 20, now, and as few as 12 weeks, later. Before now, most workers only got $296 a week, and the average unemployed worker still has to look 35 weeks before finding a job.

Making matters worse, the cuts violate federal law, so federal extended unemployment benefit payments will be cut off automatically when McCrory’s unemployment cuts go into effect July 1. Democrats in both chambers of the legislature offered amendments to delay implementation of the law until January 1, 2014 to avoid this needless consequence, but they were defeated on party-line votes.

U.S. Department of Labor says 170,000 North Carolinians – unemployed through no fault of their own and looking for work they have not found – will lose their last lifeline. Adding foolishness to their misery, when those benefits lapse, our state economy will lose $780 million in the rest of 2013.

“The permanent cuts in benefits in this law are bad enough, but to turn down $780 million in federal funds and cause 170,000 families to lose extended benefits is just plain cruel,” said McMillan in her statement after McCrory’s cuts became law:

“With the stroke of his pen, Gov. McCrory severed the lifeline for thousands of unemployed North Carolinians, and he made clear that his allegiance lies with his corporate donors rather than his constituents. As one of the first laws under his tenure, these cruel cuts will forever mar any legacy that Gov. McCrory hopes to leave behind. Only bullies kick people while they are down. Shame on our Governor and our legislature for turning their backs on unemployed workers.” — MaryBe McMillan, 2/19/2013

ABC News interviewed one such worker, Lee Creighton of Raleigh, who, ironically, worked at the state legislature until being laid off last October.

Creighton is highly educated with a PhD in math, two masters degrees, and has published four books – but that hasn’t helped him find a job. He describes how long-term unemployment is like a trap from which it seems impossible to escape. His voice cracks when he recounts how much of his independence he’s lost trying to make it on unemployment benefits, now set to expire on July 1:

“I’m a middle-aged man who relies on his parents to buy him food, at Walmart. Yeah, well… you can’t eat diplomas, can you?” — Lee Creighton, 2/19/13

Watch the ABC News report:

Ed Shultz of The Ed Show, a weeknight news commentary program on MSNBC, covered the unemployment insurance cuts, delivering a devastating take down of Pat McCrory’s “textbook conservative economics” – sacrifices for jobless workers, pay raises for his people. Watch it:

A new level of hypocrisy

NC Policy Watch interviewed State Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincolnton) about his own experience on the receiving end of unemployment insurance. “He spent more than a year collecting unemployment checks, up until his August 2011 appointment to finish out the term of his predecessor,” Rep. Saine told Policy Watch:

He credits the insurance with allowing himself, his wife Kathryn and their young son weather the months he was without work, a time when the family lived off the salary from his wife’s health care job and began to sell off possessions while Saine unsuccessfully tried to find work.

“I don’t approve of the stigma associated with it (unemployment),” said Saine, who describes himself as Ronald Reagan conservative on his campaign website. “Real people who want to work can’t find jobs.”

Rep. Saine’s experience sounds a lot like that of others who have been on unemployment:

Saine said he lost his job in May of 2010, before he served with the N.C. General Assembly. He had been in sales with Helms Security, Inc., a small security and burglar company in Lincolnton that scaled back its operations when revenue dropped for the company as a result of the recession.

For the next approximately 15 months, he remained unemployed while looking for work. His weekly benefits were around $300 a week, and Saine said was looking for jobs every day in addition to the occasionally consulting job, but couldn’t find anyone to hire him. The job loss was emotional, he said, for someone like himself who took pride in working and wanted to work.

“I don’t think you truly know until you’ve been there,” Saine said. “I would go to interviews begging for work and get told I was overqualified.”

The kicker? Jason Saine voted along with the rest of his Republican caucus to cut unemployment benefits! “You do what you think you need to do,” Rep. Saine said.

Apparently, what you need to do if you are unemployed is survive as best you can on jobless benefits until you get appointed by your party to fill a vacant seat in the North Carolina General Assembly, where you can then make “tough calls” like cutting the lifeline for all the other people still drowning behind you.

Read more about the legislator who voted to cut jobless benefits he once received.

Where do we go from here?

A lot of people are about to lose everything because of McCrory’s unemployment cuts.

When we interviewed six UAW members for the video NC Stories of Life on Unemployment, we heard over and over that having received $150 less per week from unemployment benefits while laid off – sometimes repeatedly, sometimes as long as 3 years – would have been devastating.

Stacey Hinson of Denver, NC told us not only would her son have had to drop out of college, she would have had to give up her car, and with it, her means to search for work.

Robert Osborne of Statesville, who put every dime of his UI check to keep from losing their house, said he and his wife probably would have been homeless and on public assistance.

Leon Dickerson, father of two kids in Huntersville, NC, echoed Robert’s comments when he told us, “I probably would have been out in the street.”

“There’s nothing left to cut,” said Chandra Byrd of Salisbury. “You’re stretching what you already have. Minus one-fifty? You can’t do it!”

Garry Manalili, who lives in Gov. McCrory’s hometown of Jamestown, who has a wife and four kids he had to take care of with his unemployment benefits, said he “Prayed to God every day” that he might find work and get off unemployment. What if McCrory’s cuts had been in place then? “We wouldn’t make it,” Garry told us.

Contemplating the cuts, Sally Menius from China Grove, NC, who told us unemployment benefits probably saved her life and her kids’ lives during the three years she was laid off, said she “can’t even fathom it. I can’t even imagine it. I hope it doesn’t happen because it will be horrific.”

When we asked Robert what he’d say to McCrory if given the chance, he sighed and then replied, “You’re making a big mistake.”

We need to keep telling the stories of North Carolinians who will now be made to suffer from McCrory’s mistake. If you know someone who will lose their federal unemployment benefits on July 1, we want to hear from them. Give us a call at 919-833-6678 or send us an email to info@aflcionc.org.

In the meantime, consider adding your name to this petition by Working America, “Governor McCrory, Pick Up Your Phone!” We heard from many people who responded to our call to action that when they tried to call the Governor’s office after work,  they could not get through or leave a message. They were just disconnected. That’s wrong. Sign the petition.

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