Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue slammed the Republicans for “extortion” in their demand for deep budget cuts in return for passing legislation that would allow the unemployed workers to receive their final 20 weeks of benefits under the federal Extended Benefits program.
The EB program is being phased out in N.C., as the stae no longer qualifies for the federal EB program. The EB program gives 20 weeks extra benefits to those jobless workers who’ve exhausted their initial 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance benefits. Even though the N.C. unemployment rate remains at 9.7%, one of the federal requirements of the EB program is that the unemployment rate must be at least 10% higher then the average jobless rate over the previous two years. Under that rule the N.C unemployment rate hasn’t risen enough to satisfy that requirement.
In recognition of the continuing unacceptably high unemployment rate, Congress lawmakers ruled that the states could change the “look-back” period from two years to three years. With a changed look-back of three years, N.C. would still qualify for EB assistance. But the states Republicans, who control the legislature, have tied the changing of the look-back period to demands for a 13% cut in the state budget.
So once again those that cannot defend themselves are the pawns in a political power play. At a news conference, one of the protesters, Tracy Whitman said “Thirty-seven thousand people are out here watching this tennis match between our legislature and the governor. Nobody’s winning.” He added that if the standoff continued “I stand to lose my house, my car, everything. If I can’t have a car to go back and forth to school, I’ll have to drop school, so I lose that,”
Perhaps it’s all best summed up by one of the protesters, Keith Fountain, who said that he wanted the Republican legislature to realize that each of the 37,00 jobless represents one family – “This bill has nothing to do with any budget. We’re not line items on the budget. We’re people who need to have a little bit of support. We’re not beggars. We’re not hobos. We’re not bums. We’re out looking for work, it’s just not there…We deserve more than to be treated like a political toy.”