At his press conference today, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the following about the unemployment insurance overhaul bill  that conservative lawmakers and the North Carolina Chamber cooked up in some secret meetings late in 2012:
“Even if the bill is passed as it is, fully 84% of the folks that are receiving benefits or, that the benefits are calculated – the way they are presently – 84% will still be calculated the same way, will still receive the benefits. So you’re talking about 16% that are in that upper area, that uh, that would uh… that the overall benefits will be less for newly unemployed people after the bill goes into effect.”
Got that? Notwithstanding Berger’s tortured English, it’s pretty clear that he’s claiming that 84% of unemployment insurance beneficiaries will be unaffected. You can watch WRAL’s video of his press conference by clicking here . The statement in question is made at around the 31 minute mark.
This was the first time such a number has been trotted out by defenders of the proposal — which again makes one wonder about the secrecy of the way the whole thing has proceeded . But laying the matter of process aside, the question arises: Can Berger’s claim possibly be true? Can it be true that the big money Berger is alleging the proposal will save will be wrung out of only 16% of program beneficiaries?
Subject to new information from the Senator about what he really meant with his his fumbling attempt at a parsed statement, a preliminary one-word characterization of his claim has to be the following: Baloney!
As the official description prepared by legislative staff  makes clear, the bill slashes benefits and eligibility for everyone. Rather than basing benefits on one’s highest income quarter as is now the case, the proposal would look at the last two calendar quarters. There is also a new waiting week, new cuts to maximum benefits, new cuts to length of eligibility and many others.
Right now, in the current period of high unemployment, something like 55% of beneficiaries are already exhausting the current maximum stay on the program. Earth to Phil Berger: Your proposal cuts that period. That change alone will mean a reduction for more than half the program participants.
Bottom line: Berger and his team clearly want to slash unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility. Okay – let’s debate that topic. But the senator needs to stop with the disingenuous statements about what he’s really proposing.