A state unemployment benefits extension program enacted following the recession’s onset in 2008 could fall out of use barring legislative intervention.
With February figures showing Richmond County’s unemployment rate hovering near 13 percent, there are bound to be some of the estimated 37,000 who could lose their benefits here. Unless a legislative push to reinstate the extended benefits wins approval, the benefits will go away after April 16.
The ESC’s 20 weeks of extended benefits kick in after someone has exhausted initial benefits and all four tiers of federal benefits, and means job seekers are eligible to spend nearly two years collecting benefits.
North Carolina Employment Security Commission Public Information Officer Larry Parker explained the program was triggered in October of 2008, when the U.S. Department of Labor (US DOL determined the state had a three-month rolling average unemployment rate of 6.5 percent or more.
“The program is triggered on or off the US DOL, and they notify us whether to issue the benefits or not,” he said Monday.
He explained the program was triggered off when analysts looked at a three-month rolling average from December to February of this and the previous two years, and found this year’s total wasn’t 110 percent of the average of the previous two years.
Parker explained a bill was introduced last week in the General Assembly that would have the previous three years analyzed. The recession onset in early 2008.
“The only way this program is going to be extended is if the legislators decide to make it be extended,” Parker summarized the situation.
Yavonda Bronner is one of those who has exhausted all 99 weeks of benefits, and suggested anyone who is on unemployment now should use this time to polish their resume.
“I would suggest they use this time to further their education or learn some type of skill,” she said. “Anybody who is on unemployment now should get their WorkKeys, too, because more and more companies are looking for that to hire.”
North Carolina, along with 26 other states, is currently borrowing from the debt-ridden federal government to pay unemployment benefits. North Carolina owes about $2.7 billion, while California is the heaviest in-debt at $10 billion.
“This extension would be paid for with 100 percent federal money, though, so it won’t cost the state anything,” Parker added.
While state and federal officials decide whether to extend unemployment benefits yet again, Richmond County remains not far off its peak unemployment over the last couple of years at more than 15 percent, despite a .5 percentage point drop in February to reach 12.9.
To the west, Anson County saw its rate drop to 12.9, as well, after registering at 13.8 percent in January, and Stanly County saw its rate decline from 11.8 to an even 11 percent.
To the north, Montgomery County also saw a decline from 12.9 to 12.2 percent, and Hoke County stayed even at 9.7 percent.
Scotland County, to the east, continues to struggle with the highest unemployment in the state, after registering at 15.9 percent in February.
The statewide unemployment rate for February was 10.1 percent.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by e-mail at email@example.com.