Residents cut off from extended unemployment
Many Haywood County residents are left to fend for themselves after federal extended unemployment benefits were cut off as of July 1.
The state of North Carolina is blocking federal money that would provide unemployment benefits for 71,000 North Carolinians. According to the state’s Division of Employment Security, about 340 people in Haywood County will be affected by the cut off. The last payable week of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (EUC) was June 29.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed the unemployment insurance reform bill in an effort to repay more than $2.6 billion to the federal government by 2015 instead of the projected 2019.
North Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.8 percent but still lags behind the 7.6 percent national average.
Residents who started receiving unemployment benefits before Jan. 1 are likely affected by the change because regular unemployment benefits currently has a maximum of 26 weeks.
“The Department of Commerce is prepared to support individuals losing federal emergency benefits with all the resources available,” the website states. “Local workforce offices are located around the state to provide individuals with the services and information they need to get back to work or gain access to the training they need.”
Virginia Gribble, manager for Waynesville Division of Workforce Solutions, said she was told to direct all questions about the change to the office in Raleigh. However, she did say the local office still has resources for people without a job.
“We have a lot of things in place to help people get more job ready, but they have to come to the office,” she said.
The local workforce office can help people with free computer and Internet access, resume preparation, job market information, job searches, career assessment, training and education program information, access to training resources, veteran work programs and referrals to other state and local organizations.
In addition to cutting off extended benefits, the bill reduced the weekly benefit from a maximum of $535 for 26 weeks to a maximum of $350 for 12 to 20 weeks.
Residents already receiving state funded benefits should not see a reduction to their weekly benefit amount. However, new claims filed on or after June 30 will be subject to a maximum weekly benefit amount of $350.
Haywood County resident Juanita Clemmons Cayer said she and her husband live paycheck to paycheck even when he is working, but his maintenance work at nuclear plants is not steady enough. She isn’t able to work because of an illness.
“When he is unemployed, we depend on that (check),” she said. “It isn't enough to pay our bills. Last year when he was laid off we lost both vehicles and were late with other bills. It is just not enough to live on until they call him back to work.”
Jennifer Lawrence, who grew up in Clyde, said the effects of this decision extend farther than the person who is unemployed. Her grandson has lived with her for three years after being placed into her custody and she is already scrapping by with what she makes with her full-time job.
Both parents are ordered to pay child and the only reason Lawrence receives a regular payment from the father is because it comes out of his unemployment check.
“So it doesn’t just affect him if the state stops the benefits,” she said. “That will stop what I use to pay his daycare, to buy him shoes and school supplies.”
Lawrence said many people, like her grandson’s father, couldn’t find a job in their current field or something that would allow them to support their families.
“We’re forcing these people to work at McDonald’s where they won’t be able to feed their families,” she said. “I understand tough love but it doesn’t just affect that person.”
Gribble said she is seeing more and more job opportunities in the county. While some people have had to take jobs below their skill level or education, “most people are finding jobs they’re satisfied with,” she said.
If things don’t improve, Lawrence said she would have to ask a church ministry or charity for assistance with clothes or other essentials. That is her last resort because she knows there are others who probably need the help more than her family.
“I haven’t had to do that so far and I know I’d be taking away from people who really need it. It’s certainly not a position I like to be in.”
Her frustration is that lawmakers won’t listen to any ideas that she has proposed to them to create jobs and feed the hungry.
“I’ve called Congressmen with ideas they don’t listen — let people on unemployment sign up to work to plant gardens to feed people that are on food stamps or to give to nonprofits,” she said.
With the changes going into effect, North Carolina will be the only state cutting off federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. The federal government offers extended benefits providing the state support doesn't fall below 26 weeks, which is the case with the North Carolina changes.