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Benefits for unemployed stall in Senate

On Tuesday, the Senate failed to get enough votes to pass an extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits.

But while Senate leaders decide their next move, people in North Carolina will go on living without these benefits — as they have since July.

All of the country lost federal emergency unemployment benefits on Dec. 28, but North Carolina was unaffected. The state had already opted out of the federal benefits last summer when the N.C. General Assembly decreased the maximum amount of state money an unemployed person could receive in a week from $535 to $350.

Federal emergency unemployment benefits are meant to kick in when recipients have exhausted their state benefits.

Since the extended federal unemployment benefits were canceled, the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service — a nonprofit that provides shelter, food and services for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area — has not seen a drastic rise in the number of people it helps, said Kristin Lavergne, the community services director.

Still, its numbers have remained consistently high, she said.

“We have had people come in saying they were concerned about what they were going to do if they couldn’t find a job,” she said.

The bill that was considered by the Senate might have also reinstated benefits in North Carolina via a provision created by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C..

“As we slowly regain jobs lost during the Great Recession, out-of-work North Carolinians should not suffer because of the General Assembly’s reckless actions,” said Hagan, who had supported the bill.

The unemployment rate in North Carolina has been declining, and by the end of 2013, it was at its lowest rate in more than five years at 7.4 percent. Orange County has a rate of 4.3 percent as of Nov. 2013.

But Patrick Conway, chairman of UNC’s economics department, said that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer people jobless in the state.

“In the period since last December to November, the state of North Carolina lost 6,000 jobs, yet the unemployment rate fell from 9.4 percent to 7.4 percent,” Conway said.

Those no longer receiving unemployment benefits — and not being counted toward the unemployment rate — haven’t just disappeared. They are still in North Carolina, and the rate will gradually increase when those people begin to look for jobs as the economy improves, Conway said.

Lavergne, of the IFC, said because the number of people in need has remained high throughout the past several years, sustaining the necessary donation levels has proven challenging.

“Donations were a little slow in the fall last year,” she said. “IFC has been helping people get food they might not otherwise have been able to provide for their family. We gave out 18,000 bags of groceries this last fiscal year, and there are continuing needs in the community.”

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