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NC Policy Watch: Benefits Running out for 70,000 Jobless

By Sarah Ovaska of N.C. Policy Watch

May 29, 2013. Tens of thousands of long-term unemployed workers will be suddenly cut off from their benefits July 1, a reality that many of the affected don’t realize.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security has just begun informing the estimated 70,000 long-term unemployed about the looming cut-off date a little more than a month away.

“We’re really desperate as to what’s going on here,” said JoAnn Loggins, of Morganton, who learned about the cut-off through a friend. “If they cut off unemployment, I’m going to be devastated; I’m going to be homeless.”

Loggins, 69, cares for her mentally disabled granddaughter and has been without a job since February when she was laid off from her position handling billing for a trucking company.

The changes are a result of a far-reaching law passed and signed this February to repay money North Carolina borrowed during the recession and restructure the state’s unemployment system. The new law caps weekly benefits at $350, down from the current $535, and limits the length of unemployment to a sliding scale of 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment, down from six months, when the unemployment rate is above 9 percent.

It will drop to between 12 to 19 weeks of benefits when the unemployment rate is between 8.5 and 9 percent, as it is now.

The state’s seasonably adjusted unemployed rate for April was 8.9 percent, the lowest it’s been since January 2009 but still the fifth-highest in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The stubbornly high unemployment rate comes as no surprise to Loggins, the unemployed worker from Morganton. With 25 years in the trucking industry, she’s sent out resumes and attended job retraining classes but hasn’t been able to find replacement work. She suspects employers overlook her because of her age.

“Why would you hire someone that should already be retired?,” she said. “But I still need to work and I can learn anything.”

Limited information about the July 1 cut-off have gone out yet to the more than 70,000 who stand to be immediately affected, with notices just appearing online for jobless workers logging in to their unemployment accounts. 

Anyone who started unemployment before January will likely be affected, according to the unemployment agency.

The federal labor department estimates that 170,000 jobless North Carolinians will have forgone the federal benefits through the end of the year that otherwise would have been available, had the state legislature not insisted on a July 1 start date. [Read more…]