Our guest blogger is Danielle Lazarowitz, Special Assistant for the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.With North Carolina’s Republican General Assembly holding jobless benefits captive as part of a tough budget battle, Gov. Bev Perdue (D-NC) took a unique action to help the people of her state, and other governors should take note. In an unexpected move last Friday, Perdue issued an executive order that would reinstate unemployment benefits for the 47,000 long-term unemployed people in North Carolina who lost their benefits in April:
“This should not have been about who holds whom hostage,” Perdue said Friday. “They were holding me hostage, but they were really holding 47,000 people hostage. So, yeah, finally I’m going to act on my own. I’m tired of waiting for a partner that does the right thing.”
On April 18, Perdue vetoed the state’s budget bill that while extending unemployment benefits, would have also slashed funding for early childhood education programs, cut millions from Medicaid and mental health services, reduced affordability of public universities, dismantled public safety programs, and triggered massive state layoffs.
Additional bills were introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly to extend benefits that were tied to everything from education cuts to a requirement of community service to receive benefits. Perdue’s executive order finally put an end to this game of chicken that played with the financial well-being of innocent North Carolinians.
As the Center for American Progress continues to show, unemployment benefits are critical to boosting our economy as a whole and reducing poverty. But currently, eight states (Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Kansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia find themselves in the same position as North Carolina, with extended unemployment benefits expired or about to expire.
If the eight states — and DC — that see their jobless benefits disappearing do not find themselves in the political environment to pass legislation to extend them, their governors might look to Perdue for a new approach to provide that crucial safety net for their state’s long-term unemployed. To be sure, there are some that have questioned the governor’s authority to issue such an order, but the U.S. Department of Labor said on Monday, “The provisions of the executive order meet federal requirements.” And that is all that the 20,000 people who began seeing funds in their benefits accounts yesterday needed to hear.