No end appears in sight for a stalemate that's held hostage extended unemployment benefits for North Carolina's long-term jobless for nearly a month, state legislative leaders said Tuesday.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the General Assembly's Republican leaders are waiting for Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue to propose a compromise.
Perdue vetoed the GOP proposal to extend the benefits only if the governor accepts double-digit cuts before budget negotiations begin in earnest. Perdue called the linkage "extortion." Republican leaders said they wanted to ease questions about continued state funding in case a budget deal isn't reached by the time the next fiscal year starts in July.
Jobless workers whose payments are stopped could recover the money down the road if legislators and Perdue later agree to change the eligibility formula. Meanwhile, the payments averaging $297 a week have been stopped.
The cutoff affects 37,000 people who were receiving extended unemployment benefits; those who've been unemployed for shorter durations are unaffected and continue to receive compensation.
"What I am telling people is the Senate and the House have passed a bill that extends those benefits. We think the question is: what has the governor done other than say, 'Do it my way. That's the only way that I'll accept.'" Berger said. "I would hope that either the governor would modify her position or tell us what it would take to modify her position."
A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, agreed with Berger than no resolution is imminent.
Perdue spokeswoman Chris Mackey said the governor has been clear that she would sign legislation that changes the formula without any add-ons.
"No further discussion should be necessary," Mackey said.
Minority Democrats have been unable to force a vote on a measure that simply changes the formula that would allow the unemployed to keep receiving benefits from the federal government for up to 99 weeks. All Democrats in the Legislature have signed a petition seeking a vote, but there are too few of them to force action.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said his Democratic colleagues believe that the recession has deeply disrupted the economy and created an unusually large number of people who may be unemployable in the next few years.
"It's finally starting to dawn on people that we have long-term unemployed people that want a job and can't find it," Nesbitt said. "It's not people who are not educated. It's not people who don't have a skill. It's everybody from the top to the bottom of the spectrum who cannot find jobs in America today."
North Carolina is one of about three dozen states in which an extended benefits program of up to 20 weeks of compensation was created as a way to lessen the pain for the long-term unemployed caught in the recession's massive job losses.
The U.S. Labor Department notified North Carolina officials in early April that the extended benefits program had to stop paying out after April 16 because the state's recent three-month average unemployment rate had improved from 2010 and 2009. South Carolina and 13 other states have passed legislation to revise their formulas and keep the extended benefits flowing, the state's Employment Security Commission said.