After nearly two weeks of inaction, state legislators could soon restore jobless benefits to 37,000 job seekers who would otherwise lose their unemployment insurance Friday.
The state Senate could vote as early as today to extend the benefits, setting up a state House of Representatives vote tomorrow to get the money out to jobless residents.
But Republican leaders in the General Assembly have linked the unemployment benefits, which are a priority for Gov. Bev Perdue, to a GOP budget. That way, if Perdue wants to support the state's jobless, she'll also have to vote for the Republican budget.
Gov. Bev Perdue would have to sign the legislation by Friday to make sure that the affected jobless workers qualify for an extra 20 weeks of benefits.
The GOP add-on, introduced this morning, would prevent a shutdown of the state government if Perdue vetoes the Republican-backed budget and leaves the state government unfunded. Republicans say linking unemployment benefits to the GOP's continuing resolution legislation prevents a government shutdown and helps state workers.
The continuing resultion, funed at 87 percent of the current budget, would be good for one full year, becoming an annual budget for the state government.
As part of the bill, unemployment benefits would be extended by changing how the state calculates eligibility for the weekly payments. If the formula is not changed, jobless benefits in this state would be reduced from a maximum of 99 weeks to 79 weeks, cutting off 37,000 workers.
The extended benefits are federally funded, and North Carolina will not have to repay the money, said Larry Parker, spokesman for the N.C. Employment Security Commission, which administers jobless benefits in this state.
The ESC was notified April 1 by the U.S. Department of Labor that the benefits extension would expire because the state's jobless rate had declined.
Soon thereafter a bill was introduced in the state House to extend the benefits, but the bill got bogged down for lack of action.
The ESC then explained to state GOP leaders in an April 8 letter that the 20-week benefits extension could easily be restored if the state changed the formula it uses to calculate benefits.
In the letter, ESC Chairman Lynn Homes said eight other states had changed their laws to extend jobless benefits.
If the benefits are not extended, 37,000 would be cut off immediately, but several hundred thousand beneficiaries could be cut off in the coming months as their benefits reach their expiration dates.