Editorial: It's no game for jobless
Democrats and Republicans in the N.C. Legislature are blaming each other for the political gamesmanship that has cut off unemployment benefits for 37,000 longterm jobless North Carolinians.
Meanwhile, the unemployed citizens caught in the middle arenít interested in keeping a tally of political points. Theyíre wondering how to pay their bills and avoid falling into an even deeper hole if this standoff doesnít soon end.
It began last month after the U.S. Labor Department notified state officials that the extended benefits program had to stop paying out after April 16 because the stateís recent three-month average unemployment rate had improved from 2010 and 2009. N.C. is among three dozen states that have participated in the federally funded program which allows those whoíve been laid off to collect unemployment benefits for an extra 20 weeks. Given how slowly hiring has expanded during the recovery, many laid-off workers are having a hard time finding new jobs. A few extra weeks of benefits can be a godsend for those staring at a stack of bills and depleted savings.
Fortunately, the problem has a fix. All thatís required is for state lawmakers to adjust the formula for calculating unemployment benefits so that it once again satisfies the federal criteria. Itís an easy fix, and many other states have already done this.
Unfortunately, the benefits problem revealed itself in the heat of a highly partisan legislative session, where the parties have circled their wagons and are battling over practically every issue, from the budget to redistricting to voter ID requirements. Republicans contend that state officials, in league with Democratic leaders, sprang the benefits cutoff on them without sufficient warning. They then linked the benefits extension to spending cuts that Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed, calling it ìextortion.î
Thereís plenty of blame to go around here. The machinations over this issue serve as a reminder that lawmakers in Raleigh can be just as dysfunctional and self-serving as those in Washington.
Legislative leaders have said they expect to reach a compromise on the benefits extension ... eventually, and the extended benefits apparently would be restored retroactive to the date they expired. But theyíre obviously in no hurry to provide this relief. For now, the checks arenít in the mail, and several thousand jobless North Carolinians have reason to feel theyíre simply pawns in a political power struggle.