More than 1,500 local residents will be among the 70,000 North Carolinians who will lose their unemployment benefits July 1 under a new state law passed earlier this year.
The N.C. General Assembly approved legislation in January to cut benefits for jobless workers by about one-third and reduce how long they can collect assistance in order to help the state more quickly repay $2.5 billion borrowed from the federal government for unemployment benefits.
The law cuts maximum weekly benefits from $535 to $350 and caps benefits at 12 to 20 weeks, based on the state’s unemployment rate, instead of the current 26 weeks.
North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent in April, the lowest in four years. But the Rocky Mount metropolitan area, which includes Nash and Edgecombe counties, had a rate of 12.3 percent, the only metro area in the state with double-digit unemployment.
The state’s dropping jobless rate so far has produced no benefit for long-term unemployed residents of the Twin Counties. The number of unemployed workers in Nash and Edgecombe counties has dipped slightly during the past year or so, but not by much. Soon, those people will lose their main source of income without gaining any improved chances for finding work.
Critics of the unemployment reform measure argued at the time of its passage that the plan unfairly penalizes the state’s most vulnerable residents. Staff writer John Henderson helped to put a human face on that argument, telling the story of a laid-off single mother trying to support four children and two grandchildren on a $227 weekly unemployment check, which she will be losing in July. Her electricity has been cut off, and she is behind in her rent.
And all state officials and lawmakers have to say to her is, “tough luck.”