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A group of state lawmakers has been meeting behind closed doors to find a fix for North Carolina’s $2.4-billion unemployment insurance problem, money the state borrowed from the federal government in the height of the economic crisis.

A trio of Republican lawmakers – state Reps. Julia Howard, Edgar Starnes and Harry Warren – have been meeting weekly with legislative staff for the past 10 weeks to roll out a plan, Howard said. They plan on bringing their proposal to light on Wednesday at the N.C. Revenue Laws Committee which has the option of voting immediately on the mystery plan without holding any public discussion.

The result could be a massive overhaul of the state’s unemployment system, with a very real possibility that lawmakers side with business interests looking to cut back on how much and for how long the unemployed can collect. Advocates for the poor (like the N.C. Justice Center) say that option would cause further harm for families in crisis.

The money was borrowed at the height of the economic crisis, and went to pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment for thousands of North Carolinians who lost their jobs as the state grappled with the fall-out from the collapse of the housing industry.  A series of tax breaks businesses received on unemployment insurance in the 1990s had left the state without enough money to weather the drastic increase of jobless workers during the Great Recession.

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