As Sarah Ovaska details in the post below, in less than a week and a half, more than 70,000 North Carolinians will see their extended federal unemployment benefits dry-up as major changes take effect with the state’s employment security law.

Lawmakers, who fast-tracked this legislation earlier in the session, believe it will improve the state’s business outlook to repay the federal government more quickly the $2.5 billion borrowed at the height of the Great Recession.

But Bill Rowe with the NC Justice Center points out that the federal emergency extension of benefits is already drawing to an end for states at the end of the year. By prematurely making these changes to the state system now, North Carolina is rejecting $600 million to $700 million dollars in federal money over the next six-months that would be pumped directly into local communities:

“When unemployed folks get those dollars, they are going to pay their landlords, they are going to pay their banks, they are going to pay their utility companies, they are going to buy the necessities for their families. And in some communities that are really hard hit by unemployment,those dollars are going to make a big difference for those small businesses,” explains Rowe. “It’s a two hit here, we’re going to hurt some families, but we’re also going to hurt some families that run some businesses.”

Rowe believes legislative leaders with the political will could add a provision to the state budget changing the effective date of the new law from July 1 to January 1, 2014 and allow the emergency benefits to remain in effect through December.

So far, neither budget negotiators nor Gov. Pat McCrory have expressed an interest in doing that.

For a preview of Rowe’s weekend radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below. Also be sure to read Friday’s Fitzsimon File, which has more on the unemployment cliff.

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House of RaefordMaking good on predictions issued earlier this year, House of Raeford Farms has given notice to the state Department of Commerce under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (aka the “WARN Act”) that it will be closing its slaughter plant and two support facilities in Raeford as early as July 13. The closures will result in the loss of 1,060 jobs in the small Hoke County community (population 4,600). Click here to read the letter sent by House of Raeford on May 10 as well as a May 13 memo from Commerce Assistant Secretary Roger Shackleford on the subject.   Read More


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.


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.