The editorial board of Raleigh’s News & Observer weighs in this morning on the General Assembly’s plan to slash the amount and the duration of unemployment benefits for jobless workers to more quickly repay a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government. 
The paper notes the plan, which sailed through the legislative Revenue Laws Committee on Tuesday, amounts to “treating the unemployed residents of this state more as enemies than victims.”
Here’s more from the N&O’s pointed editorial:
‘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.’
‘So what’s the point? Well, if the state does this to average citizens, the debt to the feds will be paid by 2015 instead of by 2018. For this, lawmakers are willing to hurt families in this way?
Yes, because without the cuts, the federal government would require that employers pay higher unemployment taxes, which would rise by $21 per year, per employee, until the debt was paid off.
Would that put a burden on some businesses? Surely it would. But it is a temporary burden, unlike a cut in unemployment benefits (benefits that hardly are generous to begin with) that could put families on the street.
And that result, which would be inevitable for some, would mean that those families would have nothing to spend with local merchants, thus hurting small businesses.
Paying off the debt over three additional years would allow the unemployed to avoid desperation and poverty, letting them hold on to a financial flotation device, a temporary one.
And let’s not buy into the argument from some cynics that cutting benefits would be some kind of encouragement for people to look harder for jobs. Most are looking. They want to work, and the average weekly payout of about $300 is hardly capable of putting them in the league of the rich and famous.
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. ‘
You can read the full editorial here .