Unemployment-benefits vote expected today

Published 5:15 am Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Staff Writer

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on whether to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, many of whom have lost their benefits because of the recent expiration of a previous extension.
The vote would renew a federal continuation of jobless benefits, which have been extended four times during the economic crisis, related Pat Oswalt, manager in the Washington office of the N.C. Employment Security Commission.
“Now the federal one’s died, so now all that’s in effect is the regular unemployment and the state benefits,” Oswalt said.
The extension would lengthen the amount of time an out-of-work North Carolinian could receive benefits from 26 weeks to 78 weeks, he shared.
Local ESC officials are aware of lots of people whose benefits have run out, according to Oswalt.
And job-seekers continued to pour into the ESC’s offices in the hope of securing help Monday.
By 2 p.m., Oswalt said, his staff had dealt with 47 people asking to file unemployment claims on the first day of the week. Some were lined up outside the office doors before the office opened Monday, he said.
Congress was supposed to vote on the benefits extension before breaking for the July 4 holiday, but lawmakers left the nation’s capital and pursued their vacations without acting on the measure.
Now isn’t the time to let these benefits expire, asserted Jeff Shaw, spokesman for the North Carolina Justice Center, a liberal think-tank in Raleigh.
“There are two main reasons to extend these benefits,” Shaw said.
Working families are suffering because of the recession, and unemployment benefits circulate money throughout the Old North State’s 100 counties, he stated.
Last year, a Justice Center study found that $2.2 billion in unemployment benefits had a multiplier effect — a ripple effect — of around $3.7 billion in the state’s economy from the beginning of the recession through April 2009, according to Shaw.
“Right now, as we come out of the recession, this is one of the best ways that we can be sure to stay on the path to recovery and away from a double-dip recession,” Shaw said.
Others worry about the expanding federal deficit, which critics say could get even larger if the benefits are given a longer life.
“I think extending unemployment benefits would be OK, if it was paid for by cutting something equal out of other spending,” said Dallas Woodhouse, state director of the conservative Americans for Prosperity North Carolina in Raleigh.
“Certainly, we are sympathetic to people who are without jobs,” Woodhouse said. “The problem does become that as it is currently geared, unemployment is supposed to be insurance. You pay a certain amount in to insure against you falling out of work. When it becomes extended indefinitely, it is no longer an insurance policy, but a social welfare policy.”
On the plus side, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has been falling slightly, though the rate measures only those who are actively seeking work — and not everyone who is out of a job is eligible for unemployment, Oswalt pointed out.
Beaufort County’s unemployment rate fell from 11.5 percent in March to 10.7 percent in April, the ESC reported last month.
More current unemployment figures are due out at the end of this month.
Statewide, unemployment dipped a little, from 10.8 percent in April to 10.3 percent, in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, in another sign the recovery from the Great Recession will continue to be as slow and painful as some state and federal officials predicted.