Changes made to North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system a year ago have caused pain for North Carolina workers and communities, according to a new report by the NC Budget & Tax Center. Center analysts project things will get even worse for many jobless workers because of new limits to how long anyone can receive insurance that took effect this month. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Two changes—lowering the maximum duration of weeks and a new formula that significantly reduces average weekly insurance amounts—fall most heavily on jobless workers in areas of the state’s highest unemployment, and primarily in rural counties. The cumulative effect of these changes is a double whammy for people out of work through no fault of their own – the amount of money they can collect has gone down and so has the number of weeks they can collect it.UIweekly

As of July 1, North Carolinians who have lost their job through no fault of their own will be able to receive a maximum of only 14 weeks of unemployment insurance compared to the previous maximum of 26. No other state offers fewer weeks. Meanwhile jobless workers qualifying for unemployment insurance will get nearly $300 less on average each month.

The combined result will be a significant reduction in the capacity of jobless workers to afford the basics for their families, let alone put gas in their cars to get to job interviews. And the ripple effect of these policy changes suggests the potential to slow the state’s economy.

The report also notes that the recent decline in North Carolina’s unemployment rate has been caused in part by people leaving the labor force, rather than finding work. In other words, the state still has a huge jobs deficit.

The average weekly unemployment insurance payment in May 2014 was less than $228, the 44th lowest weekly benefit in the nation.

To read the BTC’s full report, click here.

The mayor of a small coastal town with a recently-shuttered rural hospital began a nearly 300 mile walk to Washington, D.C. to call attention to his community’s lack of emergency medical care.

Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal  (Photo by Adam Linker)

Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal
(Photo by Adam Linker)

Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven on North Carolina’s Inner Banks, began his walk after a brokered plan with Vidant Health to keep the Pungo District Hospital open fell apart last month. He’s expected to arrive in Washington in two weeks.

The nearest hospital and emergency care to the Beaufort County town is now in Greenville, nearly 50 miles and an hour’s drive away from Belhaven.

O’Neal has partnered with the N.C. NAACP to call for both Medicaid expansion and for the Belhaven hospital to stay open.

Vidant Health officials, when it initially announced its plan to close the hospital, said the N.C. legislature’s decision to not expand Medicaid meant the hospital wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open with a large segment of uninsured residents.

The Carolina Mercury posted this article today about O’Neal’s march, and included a letter from the mayor about the reasons behind the march.

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House and Senate budget conferees head back to the bargaining table this afternoon.

Last week, senators made it clear they were sticking to their position of an average 11% pay raise for teachers, even if it could result in deep cuts to Medicaid and other areas of education spending.

House members are pushing for a six-percent increase for teachers, but have also talked about heading home without a revised budget in place.

As for teaching assistants, with thousands of jobs potentially on the line, they would like both sides to revisit the remarks from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison who spoke eloquently last week about the need for TAs in the classroom:

“Teacher assistants allow schools to address personalization; they allow us to differentiate to the level of need of the child,”explained Morrison to House budget conferees. “They allow us to advance more rigor for those students who are coming ahead, and they allow us to catch up those students who are behind. Teacher assistants have been fundamental in some of the most important legislation that our state has already enacted, Read to Achieve.”

Last week several Senators questioned whether teaching assistants really had an impact on results in the classroom.

Today’s Conference Committee gets underway at 4:30 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building.

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Solar powerThe good people at the League of Conservation Voters have highlighted a couple of encouraging stories this morning in their weekly newsletter about the rapid progress occurring in the solar energy business (even as the fossil fuel industry and their paid helpers in government and the conservative think tanks do their utmost to stop it).

#1 – Environomics: Solar Jobs Leave Fracking in the Dust

The solar energy industry in NC already produces nearly eight times the number of jobs that fracking supporters predict their risky enterprise will create in our state — and unlike the fracking will-‘o-the-wisp, these real solar jobs are climbing fast. That’s 3,100 jobs and rising.

We’re already fourth in the nation in solar electric generating in the US, and half of that capacity was built just in the last year. And that power and jobs production from solar in NC will keep climbing—so long as legislators and regulators don’t listen to anti-renewable energy lobbyists and ideologues and do something stupid like throwing out the existing policies that are creating the solar boom here.

A few years ago, the big power companies’ trade association mocked solar energy with an ad using the Annie musical song, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”. In case they hadn’t noticed it, tomorrow is here, baby. More here.

#2 Around the Globe: Germany Makes Solar Breakthrough

For another stake in the heart of the myth that renewables can’t produce enough power to make a difference, here’s the latest from Germany. As of last month, that major industrialized nation produced a full half of its summer-day electric generation from solar power.

Not only that, but 90% of Germany’s solar generation is coming from rooftop installations rather than big solar farms. That kind of evidence should be enough to make folks over at the N.C. Utilities Commission re-think the stakes involved in the ongoing cases over rates to be paid for solar electricity.

Read the details about Germany’s recent solar electric production records here.

The Wilmington Star News notes that the federal judge who will decide whether North Carolina’s voter suppression law should be placed on hold for the 2014 midterm elections has a lot to consider following last week’s testimony in Winston-Salem. But the editorial board concludes it would be foolish to enforce the law before a full trial. Here’s more from Monday’s Star News:

Voter IDSupporters say they just want to make sure that only properly registered voters have a say in our elections process. The integrity of our elections process is indeed important. But so is ensuring that citizens have the right to participate in that process without facing unnecessary or politically motivated obstacles.

The new voting laws are likely to discourage or exclude many qualified voters. Other states have adopted tough voting laws, but North Carolina’s is said to be the most exclusionary. It does not, for example, provide an alternative to people who do not have photo identification and would have financial or logistical difficulty retrieving a certified birth certificate required to get a government-issued photo ID. That would be a reasonable addition.

Voting is a constitutional right for U.S. citizens 18 and older. It is not a privilege, as is getting a driver’s license or boarding a flight. The government should have to clear a high bar before denying the vote to any citizen.

Kim Strach, the state elections director – whose husband is among the lawyers defending the voting laws – confirmed in a video deposition that the type of fraud North Carolina’s laws purport to prevent is exceedingly rare. Only one case was prosecuted in 10 years. In addition, Strach pointed to a double standard: No photo ID is required for voters who file absentee ballots, a method that tends to be used more by Republican voters.

Democratic voters, on the other hand – and especially black Democrats – are more partial to early voting. But early voting is popular across all demographics. In the 2012 general election, 56 percent of North Carolinians who went to the polls voted before Election Day.

The court has a lot to decide. It would be foolish to put these laws in place before the full trial, where both sides have the ability to lay out all their evidence and prove their case. The most restrictive of the provisions, including the photo ID requirement, do not take effect until 2016 anyway.

Delaying implementation of the voting restrictions until after the District Court-level ruling is the prudent course of action. That also would give the Honorables time to reconsider how to better ensure that in stopping fraud – a legitimate government goal – the law does not – inadvertently or deliberately – disenfranchise any voting-age citizen.

You can read the full editorial here.