Legislative Watch

Unemployed workers, an update

State Senate Democrats are taking another stab at restoring federal benefits for the 37,000 jobless cut off from their unemployment checks because of a budget fight state leaders are having.

Democrats would need two-thirds of the Senate to pass the bill restoring benefits, a big hurdle with the GOP members in the majority and the issue falling down partisan sides, and it would take at least 10 days to have a vote on the petition, said state Sen. Martin Nesbitt, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

The benefits for 37,000 long-term unemployed (most who have been without jobs for well over a year) were put in limbo when GOP members attached a rider to a bill allowing federal dollars to flow through to the unemployed workers about the state budget. The rider required that that Gov. Bev Perdue agree to a significantly cut budget and she vetoed the bill, saying it was unfair to put the unemployed residents in the middle of the state budget debate.

If the discharge position doesn’t work, Nesbitt hopes to have a hearing like he held last week, where some of the affected workers, many with higher education degrees and long histories of gainful employment, came to Raleigh and gave emotional accounts about the financial holes they were in after getting laid off from jobs.

“They’re good people and they’re not deadbeats and they’re not trying to beat the system,” Nesbitt said. “They’re trying to survive.”

House Democrats are working on a discharge petition as well.

But state Sen. Phil Berger, the GOP leader in the Senate, said yesterday he had no plans to move forward with restoring the benefits for the 37,000, according to WRAL. (The station has the video of both Berger and Nesbitt’s comments.)

We wrote yesterday about how one of the 37,000 is faring without her benefits. Christy Zemcik, a 41-year-old former teacher living in Charlotte, expects to be evicted from her apartment within the week and has no idea where she’ll live, with family unable to take her in and no income coming in without the unemployment checks.

The three weeks of sparring in Raleigh have left Zemcik teetering on the edge of financial ruin and frustrated with the inaction in Raleigh.

“My life is not a game,” she said. “And neither are the lives of the 37,000 and their families who are in the same position.”

Click here to read more about Zemcik, and how she’s coping without her unemployment checks.