Republican leaders in the General Assembly are treating the unemployed residents of this state more as enemies than victims. A proposal to cut unemployment benefits and to reduce the amount of time people can receive them is petty, hurtful and unnecessary.
It will take a toll on families dependent on those benefits to stay in their homes and to put food on the table. And it seems to be advancing as the Legislature prepares to begin its long session at the end of this month.
The N.C. Chamber, a business lobby, is pushing this measure, which is likely to pass in a Legislature dominated by Republicans. The reason? The state has a $2.5 billion debt to the federal government, incurred when North Carolina had to borrow money from Washington to pay unemployment benefits during the Great Recession.
The state has to start paying the money back, and the Chamber’s solution, with GOP leaders dutifully following the Chamber’s marching orders, is to cut maximum benefits by a third, reducing the top payment from $535 a week to $350 and cutting the maximum weeks of benefits from 26 to a sliding scale of between 12 and 20 weeks, depending upon the unemployment rate. There are some other tweaks as well, including making folks wait two weeks rather than one week before benefits kick in. …
So what’s the point? Well, if the state does this to average citizens, the debt to the feds will be paid by 2015 instead of by 2018. For this, lawmakers are willing to hurt families in this way?
Yes, because without the cuts, the federal government would require that employers pay higher unemployment taxes, which would rise by $21 per year, per employee, until the debt was paid off.
Would that put a burden on some businesses? Surely it would. But it is a temporary burden, unlike a cut in unemployment benefits (benefits that hardly are generous to begin with) that could put families on the street.
And that result, which would be inevitable for some, would mean that those families would have nothing to spend with local merchants, thus hurting small businesses. …
Republicans in the General Assembly do not have to do this. The rush to pay off the debt is foolhardy if it means that families in this state who are trying to recover from a financial setback they could not have anticipated will themselves be set back, again.