We Need to Restore Emergency Unemployment Insurance for North Carolinians
North Carolina is accustomed to standing out from the rest of the nation – for being the most military-friendly, for having the first public university and the best community college system, and for being first in flight. But today, as a result of a reckless law passed by the N.C. General Assembly, we’re also known as the first and only state to cut off federal unemployment insurance for struggling middle-class families when they need help most.
Even though our state’s unemployment rate continues to decrease, the long-term unemployment crisis –and the North Carolinians who cannot find work – should not be ignored. The most recent jobs report for our state offers troubling statistics that speak to a larger problem: many North Carolinians have given up on finding a permanent job and simply fallen out of the labor force. In fact, 8,100 people left the workforce in November alone, and over the last 12 months, North Carolina’s workforce has shrunk by 95,000 people.
Until the state acted to cut them off, federal unemployment benefits provided a lifeline for so many people who lost their jobs in a rough economy. In August, a North Carolina TV station told the story of a Lumberton woman who was ironing her clothes in preparation for a job interview when the electric company shut off her power because she couldn’t pay her bills. “It’s been excruciating,” she said, adding that she feared her landlord knocking on her door to evict her at any moment.
The state legislature irresponsibly passed a bill that slashed state benefits knowing full well that their bill violated federal law and would result in out-of-work North Carolinians losing these crucial federal benefits. I’m doing everything possible to right this wrong and remedy the damage this law has been doing since it went into effect in July. The first item on the U.S. Senate’s agenda this month is an extension of these federal unemployment benefits, and I’ve successfully included a provision in the bill to allow North Carolina to re-enter the emergency unemployment compensation program.
Despite the legislature’s actions, North Carolinians’ federal tax dollars have still been paying for unemployment benefits that go to 49 other states. Out-of-work North Carolinians, who paid into this system when they were employed, should be able to rely on the same safety net as residents in other states.
Of course, unemployment insurance only addresses the byproduct of a still-struggling economy that has not regained the jobs lost during the Great Recession. To accelerate job growth, I’m focused on commonsense measures to train unemployed workers for jobs that are available right now.
My AMERICA Works Act is a bipartisan jobs bill that would help close the skills gap and ensure our community colleges and one-stop job centers are training workers for jobs that companies are struggling to fill today. The legislation would encourage community colleges and job training centers to work with businesses to develop skills training curricula that lead to industry-recognized credentials sought by local employers.
In the meantime, as people in our state continue to struggle to get by as they seek work, we should not cut them off from federal unemployment benefits that often represent their only source of income. When the Senate reconvenes this week, I will continue fighting to right the wrong created by the General Assembly and restore a vital lifeline for so many North Carolinians.