HuffPo Strong on North Carolina Benefits Expiring

Arthur Delaney’s solid unemployment reporting

The Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney has been doing some solid work following an important unemployment and budget story out of North Carolina that this weekend took a turn—and which has been somewhat drowned out in the national news cycle. It’s a story about the flipside of growth.

On Saturday, Democratic governor Beth Perdue vetoed a bill pushed through the GOP-majority state legislature that would have effectively extended federal benefits for the state’s unemployed. The problem for Perdue was that Republican legislators had tied the extension to a bill that demanded a 13 percent spending cut in the state’s 2011-12 budget. The posturing from both sides mirrored much of what we’ve seen in the federal dialogue. Bottom line is that now 37,000 North Carolinians who had been receiving benefits have had them cut off.

There has been some solid reporting on the matter out of N.C. papers like the Winston-Salem Journal and the Charlotte Observer, and in places like Reuters and especially this Bloomberg BusinessWeek write-up. What distinguishes Delaney’s work, though, aside from the consistency with which he’s followed the story and those like it, is the clarity with which he presents the issue.

And it’s a relatively complicated one. As Delaney and other reports have noted, the benefits that were due to be extended were 20 weeks worth of unemployment checks that are provided to states as part of the federal Extended Benefits program—these kick in for folks after they have exhausted 53 weeks of federal “Emergency Unemployment Compensation” and 26 weeks of state benefits, and bring the total number of weeks with benefits to 99. The EB were due to run out on Saturday for NC, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Tennessee, because their circumstances had changed in a way that made them no longer eligible for the federal help. As Delaney explained in an April 6 report about the coming expirations:

The legislation is necessary because the long-term jobless are eligible for 20 weeks of EB if the job market in their state meets two conditions. First, the state’s unemployment rate during the most recent three months must be above 8 percent. Second, the rate must be at least 10 percent higher than it was during the corresponding three month period in either of the two previous years. (If the unemployment rate is above 6.5 percent, then the state is eligible for 13 weeks of EB instead of 20.)

The problem for North Carolina is outlined in Delaney’s story from Tuesday:

The U.S. Labor Department announced Tuesday that North Carolina’s unemployment rate has fallen to 9.7 percent from 11.3 percent this time last year, but even if it had not fallen at all, the EB program would still expire. That’s because the unemployment rate in any given state must be at least 10 percent higher than it was during the previous two years for the state to remain eligible for EB.

The opportunity to extend comes, Delaney explains, because, “When Congress reauthorized federal jobless benefits in December, it included a provision allowing states to modify their EB ‘look back’ laws to include the three previous years instead of two. In most states, the unemployment rate is still much higher than it was three years ago… Unlike North Carolina, 18 states have taken Congress up on its offer, according to NELP. Some states have passed legislation that preserves EB eligibility while simultaneously making deep cuts to the state-funded benefits initially provided to the newly jobless.”

As usual, Delaney bookends his explainers with sympathetic subjects who, depending on your ideology, will either draw you in or make you grumble. But the strength is in the explanations. And we made need them yet.

Delaney mentions in his latest report—having spoken to a representative of the National Employment Law Project—that the next states likely to see the EB expire are Alaska, Alabama, and Kansas. We expect he will be one of the first people we head to for details as those stories unfold.

(Note: HuffPo co-founder Ken Lerer sits on CJR’s board of overseers.)

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,