Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill on Tuesday that imposes cuts to the state unemployment insurance program.
The weekly maximum jobless benefits were cut from $535 to $350 and the maximum number of weeks for and individual to collect state benefits will drop from 26 weeks to 12-20 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate.
This announcement from the governor’s office arrived on the heels of unemployment data released by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce showing that in December, the most recent month for which figures are available North Carolina had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country.
According to the The N.C. Division of Employment Security, the unemployment rates in Deember for Surry County was 10.1 percent, with 47 counties in North Carolina (out of 100) having higher unemployment rates.
An employee with the Surry County Division of Employment Security office, who declined to be identified, said the office had received “numerous phone calls” from concerned citizens who are “scared to death their benefits will be cut or that they are going to lose their benefits because they have been receiving them for a while now.”
The manager of the local D.E.S. office was unable to comment on the situation, and directed all questions and concerns to D.E.S. management representative Larry Parker.
Parker said he wanted everyone who is receiving unemployment benefits to be assured that those who file for unemployment before July 1 will not be affected by the recent announcement.
“This will only affect new claimants who file after July 1st…we want to clear up the confusion.”
According to Parker, the D.E.S. now has “to prepare to implement all of the provisions” that will take place due to the unemployment insurance changes. “We have lots of programming in the computer systems to work on, to determine weekly benefit amounts and we are quickly putting this into action.”
With current unemployment benefits, those receiving unemployment have a maximum of 26 weeks for state unemployment benefits, at which time the unemployed move to the first of four federal tiers, which provide a total of 47 weeks of federal benefits.
Those who go beyond 26 weeks and move into the federal level will receive the same amount they received from the state.
According to Associated Press reports, the federal emergency jobless benefits for North Carolina residents will stop on July 1, since the state changed its benefit structure.
Parker explained that there is a federal “non-reduction rule” which says that if any state makes changes to the weekly benefit amount, the state will lose federal benefits, but adds “we have not been notified that federal benefits will be cut.”
In a press release from the National Employment Law Project, which is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research, education and advocacy on issues affecting unemployed workers, this announcement from McCrory is said to hit North Carolina with a “loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending at local businesses that would’ve boosted local and state economies.”
This was the second bill signed into law by the governor, who was quoted in a press release from the governor’s office as saying the cuts will “ensure our citizens’ unemployment safety net” and make sure North Carolina is “secure and financially sound for future generations.”
Several citizens who visited the D.E.S office on Tuesday afternoon were discussing the changes to the unemployment program and all expressed concerned about the announcement.
A Dobson resident who gave her name as Erica Lewis said she had been receiving unemployment for almost 12 weeks and her husband filed 2 weeks ago after losing his out-of-town job. She has visited the “unemployment office” each week due to her lack of Internet access at home.
“We used to have the Internet, but we had to give up all of the extras when I lost my job because that is what my paycheck was going for. Now, we don’t have the Internet, no cable, and the only way we got here today was because of my daughter, because we don’t have money for gas anymore, now that he [her husband] has lost his job, too.”
Lewis has to file for her unemployment benefits on a weekly basis, and also uses the computers at the D.E.S. office and the library in Dobson and Mount Airy in order to search for jobs.
Lewis said she is “sad that our governor is taking money from those who need it most.”
“What about the rich and people who get benefits who don’t even need them? Why don’t they try to work on that instead of cutting the benefits for the unemployed? I voted for the governor, but now I am thinking twice about doing that. I know I can’t take it back, but I’ll remember this when he comes up [to be elected] again. You just can’t ever tell what these politicians are going to do.”
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.