US labor chief speaks out on NC unemployment bill

February 11, 2013 8:11:08 PM PST
The U.S. Labor Department is entering the debate at the North Carolina General Assembly about the state unemployment insurance program overhaul that could be on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk this week.

Acting Secretary Seth Harris said Monday that 170,000 people would lose or miss $780 million in federal emergency unemployment benefits if the bill becomes law. That's because Congress passed a bill last month that extended the benefits for a year to states unless they changed their payment structure.

The North Carolina legislation would cut maximum weekly benefits by one-third, scale back maximum benefit weeks and raise taxes on business to accelerate repaying $2.5 billion owed the federal government.

Harris said families would "suffer a grievous blow" by the bill, which will be debated by the full Senate on Tuesday.

However, Republican State Sen. Bob Rucho said preservation is the motive behind his party's controversial unemployment insurance reform.

"Preserve the future integrity of the financial strength of the unemployment insurance plan," said Rucho. "What we're trying to do is find the best way to make sure there is sufficient money for the next group of people that will need to be taken care of for the next recession."

Democratic senators disagreed.

"Seems like it's a short-sighted decision for us to limit the unemployment decision benefits for North Carolina residents," said State Sen. Mike Woodard. "I wish we'd slow this down."

Lawmakers could take up the issue again Tuesday.

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