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NC Unemployment Plan Hits Business, Beneficiaries

A new sliding scale would be created for minimum and maximum benefits based on the state's unemployment rate. In the best possible economy â¿¿ unemployment rates of 5.5 percent or less â¿¿ benefits would range from five to 12 weeks, for example. Benefit changes would apply starting next July 1 to the future unemployed.

Lawmakers backing the plan say the benefit changes bring North Carolina's levels more in line with surrounding states. Cutting benefits will reduce the amount of money being paid out but it won't solve the real problem of people being out of work, said Bill Rowe, advocacy director at the North Carolina Justice Center. The state's unemployment rate was 9.3 percent in October.

"To shorten the number of weeks that they can claim is like kicking your most vulnerable people while they're down," said Bridgette Burge, 39, of Raleigh, who spoke against the proposal at the meeting. Burge, who is married with two children, is an unemployed social services worker who has received state and federal benefits this year.

Many attribute the unemployment debt problem to a series of employer tax cuts in the 1990s. The tax cuts weren't reversed after the last recession a decade ago, and people stayed jobless longer.

Business-oriented groups at the meeting praised committee members for attempting to fix a problem that's been discussed for at least two years, although the solution requires higher taxes for companies.

"Business knows that the road to solvency is going to involve higher taxes," Gary Salamido with the North Carolina Chamber told committee members, adding that "in comprehensive reform, business is willing to do its part."

Without changes, federal unemployment taxes required of state businesses to pay off the debt will keep growing annually by $21 per employee through 2018, choking further the ability of companies to create jobs, according to business leaders seeking a quicker solution to erase the debt.

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