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Business & Economy

Thousands In North Carolina Brace For 'Unemployment Cliff'

Man holds Unemployment Cliff Poster
Leoneda Inge

North Carolina’s “unemployment cliff” is fast approaching.  That’s what civil rights, religious and other advocacy groups call June 30, the last day tens of thousands of people across the state are eligible for extended benefits from the federal government.  There are last minute efforts underway to try to convince lawmakers to postpone the “cliff” until the end of the year.  But, so far, those efforts have been ignored.

The NAACP has organized "Moral Monday" demonstrations at the legislative building in Raleigh for several weeks now. Thousands of people have come out to protest against a slew of policies approved this year by the new Republican-led legislature.  This week protestors denounced legislation that slashes unemployment benefits.  Wayne Bostick decided to make this his first “Moral Monday.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!" were the shouts from the crowd.

Bostick chanted ‘thank you’ as dozens of people moved the demonstration into the legislative building.  Most of them will get arrested.

“It makes me feel great that people will stand up for what’s right and they don’t mind taking a risk," said Bostick.

Bostick used to work for ConAgra in Garner before the Slim Jim snack food plant moved to Ohio after a tragic explosion.  Bostick was a fork-lift driver in shipping and made about $16 an hour with benefits.  It was a union job.  Bostick has been looking for work for two years.

“I have tried, put in several applications and knocked on doors, almost begged for positions but, they just aren’t there," said Bostick.

Bostick knows his time has run out, and he’s scared.  He says his only saving grace is that his wife was able to come out of retirement and go back to work.

“Not that she’ll let me stay at home without any work, without any money coming in.  She’s not that kind of a woman.  So it’s going to cause a little stress for me, trying to make sure I can bring the money in to pay the mortgage that I am responsible for," said Bostick.

As the clock ticks down, some 70,000 North Carolinians will lose their extended unemployment benefits this weekend.  These are people who have exhausted their traditional benefits. And starting next week, new people who file for unemployment will get smaller checks for a shorter time.

Bill Rowe is constantly walking the halls of the state legislature these days.  He’s the Director of Advocacy for the North Carolina Justice Center.  His organization and more than 20 others have sent a letter to Governor Pat McCrory and legislators, asking them to delay the so called July 1 “unemployment cliff” until January 1.  Rowe says there’s no reason to halt extended benefits that are fully funded by the federal government.

“Obviously for the families we’ve heard from who are going to have trouble paying their rent, or their mortgage, or car payments or just daily living expenses.  But we also as a state will lose probably $600 million in federal benefits that could go right back into the economy and to businesses and communities," said Rowe.

But Republicans say cutting state spending and lowering taxes is the best way to stimulate the economy.  Josh Ellis is a spokesman with the state Commerce Department, which oversees unemployment.

“We’re seeing higher and higher taxes and it’s creating a disincentive to hire new folks, and so we recognize that this is not an easy solution but this will create long term, sustainable job growth in North Carolina," said Ellis.

But Wayne Bostick says that doesn’t help him today.  He tries to keep busy during his unemployment.

“Thank you so much, we really appreciate your action, would you like to be interested in learning more about this legislation and a chance to get involved?" said Bostick while volunteering with the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.

Bostick volunteers at an advocacy group’s phone bank every week.  And also volunteers at a food pantry.  He worries it will be hard to find work or volunteer without unemployment benefits. 

“You can’t stop the flow of the money, is what I am trying to say, just so a person can get a job.  There is no way that a broke person can get a job, it just doesn’t happen," said Bostick.

A new report from the Justice Center says one in five unemployed people, representing all 100 counties, are in the same boat as Wayne Bostick.

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