By MARTHA WAGGONER
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) â¿¿ Before telling the unemployed that they must live on $350 a week, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory should try doing it himself, advocates for the jobless said at a news conference Monday.
Advocates challenged McCrory and legislators â¿¿ who will soon consider a bill to lower the maximum unemployment benefit to $350 weekly from about $535 â¿¿ to live on that amount themselves for one week.
"On behalf of the over 400,000 North Carolinians currently unemployed, we dare him to make the same sacrifice for one week that he is asking the rest of us to make until he can turn this economy around," said Kevin Rogers, policy director for Action NC, the challenge sponsor. "Governor, the ball is in your court. This is your challenge."
The bill is meant to pay off the $2.5 billion that North Carolina owes the federal government for money it borrowed to pay unemployment benefits three years earlier than would happen if legislators took no action. Legislators say it also would deposit $2 billion in a trust by the early part of the next decade â¿¿ money that the state could use to pay benefits in the next recession.
The state shouldn't pay that bill on the backs of the unemployed, the advocates said, especially in a state where one job is available for every three people searching.
"There are not enough jobs in this state for all the people who want to work," said Bill Rowe, general counsel and director of advocacy for the N.C. Justice Center. "That's why we have people on unemployment benefits."
North Carolina's unemployment is consistently higher than the national average â¿¿ 9.2 percent in December, compared with 7.8 percent for the country. As the rate increased, the number of people looking for jobs also increased.