Time is running out for the U.S. Senate to follow the lead of the House and modernize the unemployment insurance (UI) system.
UI provides vital insurance to workers who lose a job involuntarily — such as those impacted by a factory closing. During the extreme unemployment years of 200-02, UI paid $2.6 billion in insurance to some 755,000 Tar Heels. Because unemployed workers tend to spend all of their modest UI benefits, this money was injected directly into North Carolina's economy during one of its darkest economic periods. In fact, the NC Budget and Tax Center estimates that UI had a net economic impact of $3.8 billion during 2001-02 — an amount equal to 1.2 percent of the gross state product.
Despite this impact, a variety of forces have undercut UI's ability to help workers, families and communities buffeted by economic change. Last month, the U.S. House passed the "Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act," a bipartisan measure that would provide incentive payments to state's that adopt worker-friendly reforms. Because NC already has adopted those reforms, the state stands to receive up to $220 million in important funds.
The U.S. Senate has yet to act on the idea, and time is running out on the congressional year. Both Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Sen. Richard Burr are well-positioned to provide the leadership needed to push the issue forward. The question is whether they will join the bipartisan majority of the NC congressional delegation that supported the House bill or simply let the clock run out.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.