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In today’s “Friday Follies” edition of his column Chris Fitzsimon reminds us of how remarkably prescient House Speaker Thom Tillis was in his October 2011 speech to Madison County Republicans in which spelled out his plan for dividing and conquering people “on assistance” in our state. Now, as Chris notes, the dividing and conquering has moved on to outright punishment.

In case you’ve forgotten the specifics of Tillis’ offensive remarks, we’re happy to offer an encore presentation below. 

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The North Carolina Bar Association’s Labor & Employment Law Council — a group whose members represent both employees and employers delivered a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger this morning asking him to slow down the legislation that would slash the state’s unemployment insurance system. According to the letter:

“We understand that these changes will result in a loss of approximately $225,000,000 in unemployment benefits from July 1, 2013 through December 1, 2013 and an additional loss of $350,000,000 in federal funds that would otherwise flow into the State for extended benefits during the same period.

We are concerned that the loss of these funds will not only seriously impact the families of workers who remain unemployed through no fault of their own, but also the local businesses that would inevitably suffer as citizens fail to pay their mortgage/rent, utilities, and transportation costs, and are unable to purchase food and other necessaries for themselves and their families.

We believe that there has not been adequate time for public comment or study of the full (and possibly unintended) consequences of these changes.”     

Click here to view the letter in its original format.

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Just in case the question occurred to you in recent days as you pondered the plan of conservative legislators to slash the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit to $350 (and the average benefit to around $250), these amounts aount to about one-third and one-quarter, respectively, of what the lowest paid state legislator takes home.

Right now, a freshman member of the General Assembly with no special status gets paid around $996 per week when the legislature is in session ($268 in salary and $728 ($104/day) in per diem). Along with the salary, lawmakers also receive an additional year-round allotment of $129 per week in “expenses” and free health insurance.

For Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the totals are significantly higher: each receives $1,461 per week in salary and per diem plus another $326 in expenses and health insurance.

None of this is to say that the lawmakers are overpaid. There’s a strong argument that we ought to pay legislators significantly more so that more average folks without additional income would seek office. Again, the per diem allotment only runs while the legislature is in session.

Still, there’s something rather striking about men and women who are currently bringing home much larger amounts in public funds and benefits for what is supposedly part-time work (many of them hold down other jobs while serving), begrudging average unemployed people the already rather pitiful sums that they get. Remember, in addition to slashing the maximum weekly benefit to $350, the bill in question would cut the average benefit from the $29o range to the $250-$260 range.  Perhaps even more importantly, the bill also dramatically cuts the length of time an unemployed person can remain eligible and makes it harder to obtain benefits in the first place.

The bottom line: I guess we know why none of the legislators behind the bill (or Governor McCrory) is willing to take the $350 challenge.

 

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Watch this video put together by the AFL-CIO of North Carolina in which real North Carolinians explain how unemployment insurance benefits helped them survive….barely. Mind you, the benefits they are discussing are the extremely modest benefits that the General Assdembly plans to slash in unprecedented fashion. (Note — if you have any trouble seeing the video, try clicking on the full screen icon).

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Today, the House Finance Committee passed a significant overhaul of the state’s unemployment insurance program that dramatically cuts the elligibility, duration, and amount of benefits for jobless workers. As the latest issue of Prosperity Watch makes clear, these reductions in jobless benefits will take effect in the midst of persistently high unemployment and at a time when unemployed workers outnumber available job openings by 3-to-1. This means that three unemployed workers are chasing every one available job, and even if every job opening is filled, there would still be two more looking for work. See the latest Prosperity Watch for details on the state’s struggling labor market.