About 400 Scotland County residents will immediately lose their long-term unemployment benefits with the state’s expected cutoff on June 30.
According to state Rep. Garland Pierce, Scotland County stands to suffer the impact of these changes more than most.
The state cuts will not apply to those currently on the unemployment rolls, only those who apply after June 30.
But federal Extended Unemployment Coverage payments to the long-term unemployed will cease immediately, as the federal law providing for those benefits requires that states maintain their existing benefit structure.
According to the state Department of Commerce, some 70,000 North Carolina workers who have been unemployed for over 26 weeks will be affected by the end of EUC payments, including some 400 in Scotland County.
In February, the General Assembly voted to reduce the maximum weekly allotment of unemployment benefits from $530 to $350. The duration of payments will also decrease from 26 weeks to a sliding scale of 12 to 20, depending upon the unemployment rate.
“There’s more opportunity in places like Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte to take advantage of - in those places you can almost walk into another job,” said the Wagram Democrat. “In areas where people are already struggling it will have a direct effect on a lot of our small businesses, and they will have to lay off more people, which will put more people on the unemployment rolls.”
Lawmakers said the cuts were made in order to fund repayment of debt incurred by the state when it borrowed federal money in the past to fund jobless benefits.
“They borrowed that money from the federal government and now they’re just sacrificing to pay it back,” said Pierce. “If they fail to start paying these back, they will be deeper in the hole.”
The $2.5 billion in savings will allow the state’s unemployment fund debt to be paid by 2015.
Pierce also voiced concern for those who will become unemployed next month with the closure of the House of Raeford turkey slaughter facility in Raeford, which employs some 950 people, many of them residents of Scotland County.
“So many have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own,” said Pierce. “Many are hardworking people. The people at House of Raeford who will lose their jobs are definitely not at fault.”
He added that many who remain unemployed after their unemployment payments have expired will have no choice but to apply for assistance through social services.
“It’s going to put a lot of people in a difficult financial situation,” Pierce said. “God forbid it’s a family where both of the breadwinners were receiving unemployment insurance - that would be a double blow. People have to pay for their lights, utilities, food, some people have car payments and mortgages.”
Currently, 453 Scotland County residents are receiving state unemployment benefits. Those with questions about whether or not their benefits will be affected by the changes can inquire at the Scotland County Divison of Workforce Solutions on North Main Street.
According to office manager Betty Galloway, the Division of Workforce Solutions will also be increasing its workforce training services and resume workshops to assist those impacted by the cessation of their benefits.
“We’re going to ramp up our intensive services to work with them one-on-one,” she said, adding that some workers who have been unemployed long-term are successful in finding new jobs.
“We can’t say it never happens - there are those here and there who find jobs,” said Galloway. “They have to be very persistent in job searching because the market is tight.”