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Political spin and 3 weeks to the Unemployment Cliff

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Governor issues talking points for lawmakers

Instead of calling on leaders of his party who reign supreme in the state legislature to actually do something to keep Federal Extended Unemployment Compensation from prematurely running out July 1, Governor McCrory has issued a talking points memo for lawmakers - specifically for their legislative aides who will be the ones to answer the phone when outraged constituents, many unaware that they will be cut off, call demanding answers of their own.

These questions deserve honest answers, not political spin:

Why did Republicans legislators vote down every amendment offered by Democrats to change the bill that cut state unemployment benefits to less than 26 weeks, violating federal law and thereby jeopardizing federal EUC?

Why did Gov. Pat McCrory sign into law a bill he knew would cost North Carolina jobless workers and our economy $780 million in EUC, already paid for by the federal government?

Why have both Republicans in the state legislature and their leader in the Governor's mansion so far refused to move bills that would delay the effective date of their cruel cuts to January 1 to spare the needless loss of federal EUC?

Gov. McCrory's memo doesn't answer those questions, the News & Observer says in its political blog, Under the Dome:

The memo, reviewed by Dome, are designed to guide legislative assistants through questions asked by callers, particularly those who are losing benefits. "Losing benefits will greatly impact those who are unemployed," it reads. "The best thing we can all do is show care and compassion, give accurate information and ... then connect them to a local workforce office to find work."

While not overtly political, the memo from the Division of Employment Security downplays why benefits are being cut off.

If Gov. McCrory really wanted to show compassion, he would be on Jones Street demanding lawmakers delay implementation of their unemployment cuts until after December 31, the end date Congress put on federal EUC.

"This is about open-government and accountability," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat who opposed the state unemployment benefit cuts and tried to have them delayed, to the News & Observer. "If you supported a bill that’s unpopular, you should admit it, not hide from it."

Unfortunately for the 70,000 workers unemployed in North Carolina who will no longer be eligible for federal EUC come July 1, that the bullies are now running for cover and hiding behind political spin won't help put food on the table, keep a roof overhead, or hold onto a car to keep searching for work.

Unfortunately for all of us, the people who now run North Carolina - from the Governor to the Republican leadership in the General Assembly - are under the mistaken belief that state government is a business and is in the business of serving the business lobby.

Indeed, the scheme to cut unemployment benefits in the first place was hatched by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce to make jobless workers pay the price for a debt created by a recession and decades of unemployment tax cuts for employers.

Therein lies the problem, said the Fayetteville Observer in an editorial this week:

North Carolina's action isn't a bad business decision. There's plenty of precedent - corporations do it all the time. When there's an onerous debt on the books and it's preventing a proper profit, you tighten the corporate belt and clear the books, so you can get back to the company business without nettlesome distractions.

And that's where the state's elected leaders went wrong. North Carolina is not a corporation. Government is not a business. And the state's social safety nets aren't in place to enhance profit. Government is created to serve the people. And social safety nets are created for times like these, when a stubborn unemployment rate and sluggish job creation keep hundreds of thousands of workers from getting a regular paycheck.

When July 1 rolls around, the damage will extend well beyond the jobless recipients of federal benefits. As a weekend story in The Charlotte Observer pointed out, the lost federal money will remove about $780 million from the state's economy. James Andrews, president of the state AFL-CIO, told the paper that, "When folks get their unemployment check, they don't invest it overseas or stash it in a bank. They spend it right away."

President Andrews is talking about folks like Brian Springs, whom The Charlotte Observer interviewed for its story.

Brian Springs, 46, said he has been collecting unemployment while looking for jobs since last fall, when his contract in a training and development position with a bank ended. He’s searched for work since then, without luck. He said the news that his extended unemployment benefits will end in four weeks – which he found out when he logged into the ESC’s website – took him by surprise.

“I’m frustrated with the way it was handled. I was thinking I was good, and all of a sudden I’ve got one month left,” said Springs, who lives in Charlotte. “I’m scrambling around trying to figure out what I’m going to do. No one said, ‘Hey, this is going to happen.’”

Losing the benefits will hurt, said Springs. “No one lives off it. You just survive off it.” [emphasis added]

Countdown Clock

Time is running out for Gov. McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger to act and keep North Carolina from plunging over the Unemployment Cliff.

GIF countdown clock
Counting down to the Unemployment Cliff