The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

June 26, 2013

County leaders oppose unemployment benefits cut

PRINCEVILLE — Some of Edgecombe County's elected officials are opposing a bill that would cut unemployment benefits beginning Monday. State legislators are reviewing House Bill 4, which would cut benefits from more than 70,000 unemployed North Carolina workers.

"I think it's a bad idea," said Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Leonard Wiggins. "Right now we have one of the highest employment rates in the state. It would affect many people here. It will also put the burden of taking care of the unemployed back on the counties in which they live."

Wiggins was referring to unemployed applying for social service benefits through the county for food and shelter.

Edgecombe County's unemployment rate has been among the highest for several years. In April, Edgecombe unemployment rate was 13.5 percent, ranking the county as 97th highest among the state's 100 counties.

In April, the Edgecombe County workforce consisted of 24,207 employed and 3,267 unemployed.

"Not only am I concerned as a county commissioner, but I'm also concerned as a citizen who has relatives and friends who will be affected by this," said Edgecombe County Commissioner Viola Harris. "These people lost their jobs because of cut backs of some sort. I can't believe that the people who were voted in to office to look after the general welfare of the people, will allow this to happen."

More than 20 advocacy groups and nonprofits from across North Carolina are calling on Gov. Pat McCrory and legislators to take action this week on behalf of the more than 70,000 out-of-work North Carolinians who are at risk of being pushed over the unemployment cliff on July 1.

The groups sent a letter to the governor and  lawmakers Tuesday for the third consecutive week, asking them to reverse the damage done by House Bill 4, which cut North Carolina’s unemployment benefits beginning on July 1. After that date, individuals who are looking for work will be cut off from the benefits they rely on to pay their rents and mortgages and feed their families.

North Carolina will also become the only state in the U.S. to lose the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (EUC), which is 100 percent funded and currently provides unemployment benefits to over 70,000 out-of-work North Carolinians who have exhausted their state benefits.

“This will almost certainly undermine any ongoing economic recovery efforts in North Carolina with hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits being lost," the letter read.

Such a catastrophe could be averted by delaying the state benefit cuts laid out in HB 4 until January 2014, the letter noted.

At a time when so many North Carolinians are struggling to find work, the loss of federal benefits through the end of the year will affect thousands of individuals and families across the state, as well as local businesses and retailers who need consumers to demand their goods and services.

Harris said the loss of unemployment could also hurt Edgecombe County if homeowners lose their homes.

"Everybody will be affected by this," she said. "We, (the county commissioners) are doing everything that we can do to bring jobs to Edgecombe County because we have a good workforce."

Nationally, applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 18,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 354,000. Despite the gain, the level remains consistent with moderate job growth.

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