The federal long-term unemployment program would extend to North Carolina once again if Congress approves a provision that Sen. Kay Hagan successfully inserted into a bill, but the Senate likely won’t act on the measure until January.
Hagan’s provision would reinstate North Carolina’s eligibility for the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The state became ineligible for the federal money over the summer when the General Assembly reduced the amount of state benefits and the length of time that unemployed people can receive them.
A federal regulation says that states cannot receive the extended federal unemployment benefits if they cut state benefits. North Carolina was the only state whose federal benefits were terminated.
Hagan, a Democrat who faces re-election in 2014, asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Finance Committee chairman, last week to make reinstatement of North Carolina’s eligibility for the federal benefits part of any law that would extend the national program. It expires Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.
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In a letter to Reid and Baucus, Hagan said that about 170,000 North Carolinians are no longer able to receive federal unemployment insurance benefits. Democrats included Hagan’s request in a bill that would extend the federal unemployment benefits for one year, but the measure got blocked on a procedural move by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., on Tuesday night.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the one-year extension would cost about $25 billion. Hagan’s provision is estimated to cost an additional $1 billion, said Chip Unruh, a spokesman for Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the sponsor of the unemployment benefits extension bill.
“North Carolina’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the country, and I want to do everything possible to remedy the damaging impact of the irresponsible law passed by the General Assembly,” Hagan said in a statement Tuesday night. “As unemployed North Carolinians try to get back on their feet, they should be able to rely on the same safety net as residents of other states.”
Reid said Wednesday that the Senate would consider the unemployment insurance legislation in January.
It’s also possible that Hagan’s waiver for North Carolina could get voted on in another bill that would extend benefits for three months, but nothing is certain yet, said Judy Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, a policy research group that advocates for the unemployed.
“This is all very much up in the air,” Conti said on Wednesday, adding that Hagan was looking at every possible way to get the provision for North Carolina added.
If Hagan’s provision became law, the state legislature is not expected to have to make any changes, said Hagan Spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.
The legislature passed a bill in the last session that cut benefits to unemployed workers and slightly increased unemployment taxes on employers. The lawmakers said the changes were necessary because the state owed $2.5 billion to the federal government on unemployment insurance.
Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who wants to run against Hagan for her Senate seat, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger have criticized Hagan for not getting North Carolina “grandfathered” under federal law so that the state could change its unemployment program without losing the federal benefits.
Hagan said she couldn’t have changed the federal law because it was impossible to have a grandfather clause for a state law that didn’t exist yet at the time.