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Unemployment benefits for 25,000 — the next fight for Perdue and GOP legislature?

Update: Gov. Perdue issued an executive order Wednesday evening reinstating the benefits for jobless workers. Scroll to bottom of post for her statement.

We reported yesterday [1] about how 25,000 North Carolinians unemployed for a year or more are expected to be cut off from their benefits Jan. 28.

Now, Republican legislators say they’re willing to look at a solution to restoring the unemployment benefits if the governor calls them back to Raleigh.

The federally-funded benefits approved by Congress were supposed to run through the end of February, but language in North Carolina’s laws would stop the federal money from flowing through to jobless workers unless  the state Legislature or Gov. Bev Perdue take steps to change it.

It’s a situation six other states are in, though most are taking steps to make sure the money flows through to the unemployed workers, according to this Huffington Post article [2] about the benefits.

But North Carolina has a bit of a different political situation, with a GOP-led legislature at fierce odds with Perdue, the Democratic governor.

We asked Perdue’s office yesterday and today whether she’d issue an executive order, as she did last spring when the exact same issue cropped up. Her communications office didn’t offer up any comment yesterday, and haven’t had anything to say today.

Meanwhile, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and N.C. Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger are wading into the issue, and released a statement late this afternoon saying they’ll take up the matter, if the governor would just call them back to Raleigh.

This from the two lawmakers:

The General Assembly is ready to work with Gov. Perdue to resolve this issue.  If Gov. Perdue believes an immediate fix is required, then we encourage her to take the appropriate action and call the General Assembly back for a special session.

It’s unlikely that a session to fix the unemployment issue would go smoothly, and more likely the issue would become yet another political battle between the Democratic governor and GOP-led legislature.

Now, the legislature just finished up a special session last week, and one that GOP leaders are still facing widespread criticism [3] for a sudden, unannounced 1 a.m. vote to pass legislation that targeted the N.C. Association of Educators by stopping the teacher’s group from collecting dues via paychecks. (The teacher’s group received an injunction [4] on Monday stalling the law while North Carolina courts review it to see if the vote was constitutional.)

Back in the spring, 47,000 unemployed workers were held in limbo last spring by the GOP-led legislature when the lawmakers refused to pass simple language that would have kept the benefits flowing through to legislators. The high-profile impasse dragged on for weeks, until Perdue passed an executive order on June 3 to restore the benefits.

The stakes were high then, and NC Policy Watch chronicled the plights [5] of some of the jobless who were facing evictions, empty cabinets and shut-off utilities without their unemployment checks.

Update con’t: Perdue issued an executive order Monday reinstating the benefits, meaning 25,000 North Carolinians will be breathing a bit easier for now.

Here’s a written statement from Perdue:

Middle class families across North Carolina are working harder than ever, but many are still having a tough time. I signed an executive order today that will extend temporary benefits to approximately 25,000 unemployed North Carolinians. In addition to providing desperately needed financial help to the families that actually receive the benefits, these federal dollars will help all North Carolinians because the money will circulate throughout the economy and help support large and small businesses across the state. To be clear, we’re able to achieve these results with no impact on the state budget because all extended benefits resulting from this order will be paid with 100% federal money.