Federal Unemployment Cuts Leads to Unrest in North Carolina

 The miseries of high unemployment rate in North Carolinians gets worse with severe cuts in federally sponsored Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC). The state’s unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.8 percent as per the reports released for the month of June by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it one of the top five states in the country.

EUC is a federal extension that provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits after you have run out of regular unemployment benefits provided by the state.

Apparently, NC happens to be the only state to cut off access to the federal EUC. A major slash in state unemployment benefits comes across as an additional blow to the unemployed. The state government has reduced the maximum amount of money that unemployed people can get each week from $535 to $350.

It is this change that cuts off  NC from the federal unemployment funds. States that change the average weekly benefit can’t get this money and this does not end here.

Until recently, the standard limit for state unemployment benefits was 26 weeks. But five states have lowered that number to either 19 or 20, and Georgia has reduced it to 18. Arkansas and Illinois have lowered their limits to 25.

With the new state law, North Carolina’s benefits end after 20 weeks. About 70,000 North Carolinians have already felt the impact of the change, effective from July 1, and an estimated 100,000 more are expected to face cuts in the next few months. These cuts will eventually leave an estimated 170,000 people with no source of income to live on.

These measures have been taken as an attempt to eliminate debt to the federal government of more than $2 billion.

“They are literally hurting people, and it is wrong,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. “It’s about violating people’s deepest moral values. Even when you have a majority, you’re not allowed to violate moral values.”

These cuts have led to unrest and protests in the state. On July 22, more than 70 protesters were taken to jail during the weekly “Moral Monday” protests at General Assembly, bringing the total number arrested in the legislative session to 925.

“The unemployment benefit cuts are the first real-world impact of the radical, regressive agenda that this legislature has adopted. The pain is starting to be real,” said Penda Hair, a co-director of the Washington-based Advancement Project, a civil rights group that has provided assistance to Moral Monday organizers. “The momentum has built every week. I would expect to see large numbers of people turning out.”

The benefit cuts have some North Carolina legislators arguing that the decision to eliminate the federal benefits starting in July was rushed, especially given the fact that the EUC wasn’t set to expire until January.

“It’s not a time for us to turn our backs on the people who need help the most,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-North Carolina.

But Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said “Delaying the law until then could have burdened businesses and increased debt. The benefits cuts will encourage people to find work faster and then move to a better job as the economy improves,” she said.

“It may not be the job that you want or your career for the rest of your life. But to take a job, get back into the job market,” Howard added.

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