For the week ended Jan. 12, the number of North Carolinians seeking unemployment benefits fell by 5,541, due to fewer layoffs in textiles, business services, construction and transportation and warehousing

In addition to the cuts in benefits, the legislative proposal also would eliminate eligibility for people who can't accept a shift with new hours because of personal issues such as day care or elder care, the advocates said.

"And that is eliminated not because it costs so much or there is some savings, but it appears to just be out of some mean-spiritedness, to be honest with you," Rowe said.

Another possible change deals with the timing of benefit cuts. McCrory told WRAL-TV that he would decide this week whether to make the changes in July, which would cut off federal benefits to those without jobs the longest, who total about 85,000 in North Carolina.

The jobless now get 26 weeks of state benefits, followed by extended benefits that the federal government pays. As part of the fiscal cliff deal, those federal benefits end if North Carolina changes its unemployment rules in 2013.

"I know the challenge is about living on $350 a week," Rowe said. "But the challenge for many people if this proposal is put through is having nothing, living on zero."

Those federal benefits bring about $25 million a week to the state economy, he said.

The proposed cuts are especially painful when compared with the 8 percent combined raises that McCrory gave to his Cabinet secretaries, advocates said. McCrory's Cabinet now makes $1.1 million altogether. Previous salaries were $121,807 for each of the eight; four now make $135,000, an 11 percent increase.

In an interview this month with The News & Observer of Raleigh, McCrory said he was "trying to make it at least where they can afford to live while running multibillion-dollar departments."

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