Current Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2014 09:58:25 -0500
This summer, unemployed North Carolinians lost nearly $200 in weekly state unemployment benefits, on top of seeing their federal emergency benefits completely disappear.
They’re now turning to state nonprofits — some of which are struggling to handle the surge.
In an effort to pay back federal unemployment insurance debt, North Carolina cut state unemployment insurance compensation from $535 per week to $350 per week, which went into effect July 1.
Federal law prohibited states receiving emergency unemployment compensation — benefits after 26 weeks of unemployment — from cutting unemployment insurance. As a result, the federal government dropped North Carolina from the program.
This affected 170,000 unemployed North Carolinians and lost the state $780 million in federal funds.
“North Carolina said to heck with that, we’re doing it anyway, so the federal government was forced to cut emergency benefits as well,” said Rob Schofield, policy director for the left-leaning advocacy organization N.C. Policy Watch.
But state nonprofits have been bracing for the effects of the cuts, said David Heinen, director of public policy and advocacy for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.
“Nonprofits were preparing, knowing after July 1 that more people were going to be coming for more services,” Heinen said.
Kristin Lavergne, community services director for the Inter-Faith Council, an organization that assists low-income people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, said the council has a process to help people who are beginning to lose benefits.
“In that sense, we felt we already had that process set up,” Lavergne said.
She also said that while there has not been a flood of people in need of the council’s services, a larger variety of people is using them — including more professional workers.
“We saw someone working at (UNC) and had been laid off, and he was getting ready to run out (of benefits), and he was worried about what would happen,” she said.
Ben Money, president and CEO of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, said more people are using community health centers as more people lose benefits.
“The number of uninsured continues to rise by folks not having access to extended unemployment benefits,” Money said. “It puts people in a lower financial category so they are available for more discounts.”
Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health, said the cuts have made it more difficult to administer care efficiently.
“We get more and more calls by people in our Carrboro location — we have not been able to see people as quickly,” he said.
Toomey also said he thinks people might be willing to seek better health options when the Affordable Care Act comes into effect January 2014.
“They might feel able to see us sooner because they have some coverage,” he said.
Money said he hopes that in the short session in May, the N.C. General Assembly will rethink the cuts.
“We hope the General Assembly will reconsider the decisions they made in the last session and look at some of the human cost that has been inflicted on people suffering from a lagging economy,” he said.