Maximum unemployment benefits decreasing for North Carolinians | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Unless state legislators take swift action, beginning Apr. 16, the maximum number of weeks for which a North Carolina resident can file for unemployment benefits is set to be reduced from 99 to 79.

"Please be advised that due to the recent decline in the North Carolina Unemployment Rate, the state no longer meets the Federal and State requirements of the Extended Benefits Program. In accordance with Federal and State law, the Employment Security Commission cannot pay any Extended Benefit claims for weeks later than April 16, 2011," reads an 'alert' on the North Carolina Employment Securities Commission Web site.

    On this date, the federal Extended Benefits program, implemented October 2008, which provides 20 extra weeks of benefits to qualifying unemployed, will end in North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin and Tennessee. This program will end for these four states because their unemployment rates for February 2011 triggered at least one of the federal government's conditions of ineligibility.

    To remain eligible for the federal Extended Benefits program, a state must meet two requirements: First, the state's unemployment rate during the most recent three months must be above 8 percent. Second, the rate must be at least 10 percent higher than it was during the corresponding three-month period in either of the two previous years.

    North Carolina posted a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 9.7 percent for February 2011; 9.8 for January 2011; and 9.8 for December 2010.

    The state obviously still meets the first requirement for Extended Benefits, as the last three months' rates are all above 8 percent. Even though unemployment in North Carolina remains high, however, the rate hasn't risen in such a way over the past two years that the state can continue to meet the second condition for Extended Benefit eligibility.

    As of February 2011, the average rate for December through February, 9.8 percent, fell below 110 percent of the average for the same period the previous two years--an 11.4 percent average from Dec. 2009 to Feb. 2010 and a 9.2 percent average from Dec. 2010 to Feb. 2009--triggering ineligibility. (A chart of North Carolina's seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for the past three years can be viewed by clicking here.)

    To continue receiving these federally funded unemployment benefits, the North Carolina General Assembly has the option of modifying state laws so this look-back period encompasses the previous three years, instead of just two, thanks to a provision the U.S. Congress made to federal benefits programs last December. If the current 9.8 average were compared to the 7.1 percent average of three years ago, North Carolina could still meet the second requirement for eligibility.

    As of today, however, according to the manager of the ESC office in Washington, Patrick Oswalt, there is no talk coming from Raleigh about introducing such emergency legislation.

    As of Apr. 16, when the Extended Benefits program ends, North Carolina's qualifying unemployed will still receive 26 weeks of regular state benefits. When these regular benefits are exhausted, a federal program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation kicks in for anyone who is eligible. The unemployed progress through four tiers, with a total of 53 weeks of benefits possible. The date to file for the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program has been extended until January 3, 2012.

    In Beaufort County, 2,183 people are currently on unemployment. Many of Beaufort County's jobless are long-term unemployed and will be greatly affected by the 20-week loss of benefits.

    If your unemployment checks have run out, or you can't get by on unemployment benefits alone, North Carolina's version of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the federally funded grant program which replaced the traditional welfare program, called Work First, may be able to assist with food stamps, financial assistance, job training and obtaining employment. The Work First Web site can be viewed by clicking here.
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