Republican legislators in North Carolina are pushing an extreme package of cuts to unemployment insurance.
The Senate committee in charge of the issue, the Revenue Laws Study Committee, voted to move the proposal forward on Tuesday. It will come to the General Assembly for a vote when they reconvene on January 30.
The proposal cuts the weekly maximum benefit by 35 percent, (even though the statewide average benefit is much less). It also reduces the number of benefit to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks, even though the average length of unemployment is at an all-time high of 40 weeks.
“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” said George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project. Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called it “one of the most radical, if not the most radical [unemployment] proposals in the country.”
Republican legislators say the cuts are needed to retire North Carolina’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. But if North Carolina employers paid unemployment taxes at roughly the national average, there would be no debt – and no need for cuts. Despite claims that the plan is “balanced,” the responsibility for paying down this debt falls almost completely on unemployed workers, the majority of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
The real reason legislators are pushing this plan? They are doing the bidding of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, the state arm of the national right-wing lobbying group. The Chamber cooked the plan up last year, and their political action committee donated to the campaigns of 17 out of the 20 members of the Revenue Laws Study Committee.
Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch was the hearing on Tuesday:
The most absurd moment of the public comment period came when the lobbyist for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce addressed the committee to praise the plan, a plan that he helped write in the backrooms over the last few weeks. Funny he didn’t mention the secret meetings in his remarks.
Not only The N.C. Justice Center writes:
Contrary to what has been said by some of our lawmakers, the proposed changes to our insurance system are dramatically out of line with our neighboring states, and would in fact move North Carolina toward the bottom of state rankings.
Here are more details of the proposal in question, via the News-Observer.