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Opinion State legislature’s refusal to renew unemp. benefits a new low point...

...in government malfeasance

This is the fourth week that thousands of North Carolina families are doing without unemployment benefits to which they are entitled. It’s hard to overstate what a shockingly reprehensible state of affairs this constitutes.

Think for just a moment about what’s been happening in all of our names:

• In mid-April, unemployment insurance benefits ran out for 37,000 out-of-work North Carolinians and their families.

• Under federal law, however, North Carolina leaders had (and have) it in within their power to renew those benefits for up to another 20 weeks with the mere stroke of a pen. The bill to extend the benefits is simple and straightforward; it could be passed and become law in a matter of just a few hours.

• Last and most amazingly, extending the benefits would not impact the state budget – the cost would be borne by the federal government!

• Unfortunately, as has been explained in this space many times, House and Senate Republicans have callously refused to extend the benefits unless, in essence, Governor Perdue agrees now to overall state government spending targets for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Got that? House and Senate leaders are holding 37,000 families hostage to get their way on a totally unrelated matter.

What’s at stake

So what does this mean in the real world? What is the “onthe- ground” result of this shameful and mean-spirited action?

It means this: Thousands of good and honest families who love their kids, their neighbors and their pets are doing without an average of just over $300 per week (or $45 per day). It isn’t much. In fact, it’s a scandalously low amount of money. But it can be the difference between surviving with some modicum of dignity and simply not doing so.

Take note of some of the poignant comments posted on the NC Policy Watch blog, The Progressive Pulse, in recent days – comments like these:

“It’s hard to find work out here… I was in management before I became unemployed and now I can’t even get hired as a WAITER! I have twin sons and already been evicted in these weeks their holding us hostage. This is just a situation that I wouldn’t of dreamed of.”

“I am one of these 37,000. I have three kids. I was laid off from my manufacturing job in late 2009 and have been advertly trying to seek other employment. Those benefits were the ONLY means of income and support that I had. Me and babies are going to be thrown out in the street if something isn’t done soon. I can’t even afford gas to continue my job search at this point.”

Of the 37,000 impacted, several are also tornado victims. A double slap in the face. While there is reason to hope that at least some of the 37,000 may have found some kind of work in recent weeks, there can be no doubt that most of these people are suffering mightily.

So, what’s next?

In response to a question on the subject at a press conference this morning, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said there has been “no movement on that, for now” but that he was hoping to hear from Governor Perdue about the possibility of a “compromise.”

To which, of course, a reasonable person might ask: “Compromise on what?”

There’s no debate or difference over what needs to be changed in the law to get the benefits to kick back in. Bills that would address the issue were introduced several weeks ago in both the House and the Senate (the latter with a Republican cosponsor). The only evident “compromise” would be the one in which Governor Perdue somehow acquiesces to the original Republican ploy of mixing unemployment apples with state budget oranges.

Or perhaps, the “compromise” might involve the latest meanspirited conservative proposal – a bill that would require unemployment insurance beneficiaries to engage in “volunteer public service” in order to receive their gargantuan benefits.

Whichever the case, the very notion that Berger is still touting this harebrained idea – i.e. that the extension of benefits (something that should have been quick and automatic) should be linked to any other extraneous issue – is simply remarkable. Berger, House Speaker Thom Tillis and their colleagues are literally putting the lives and wellbeing of thousands of innocent people in jeopardy and yet, it seems, to them, it’s all just a game. They ought to be ashamed.

Of course, when you think about it, maybe it’s not so remarkable. The budget approach that both men have already endorsed for fiscal year 2012 takes a similarly heartless and illogical approach.

Once you’ve already gone down the road of promoting policy changes that intentionally harm millions of average North Carolinians in the service of an extreme and discredited ideology, perhaps it’s not that much of a leap to harm several thousand innocent people even more directly and immediately in order to get your ideas passed.

Whichever the case – be it heavy-handed clumsiness or Machiavellian manipulation – it’s emblematic of a very sad day for North Carolina.

To get regular updates from NC Policy Watch, you can now follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Join the policy debate at The Progressive Pulse blog.


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