(CBS Charlotte) — Earlier today, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a new Unemployment Bill in the state of North Carolina.
The unemployment measure will repay $2.5 billion owed to the federal government, and will pay jobless benefits more quickly by cutting future maximum weekly jobless benefits by one-third and raising business taxes.
Under the new law, maximum weekly benefits for the unemployed have been reduced from $530 to $350. Additionally, the duration that the unemployed can collect benefits will be shortened to between 12 and 20 weeks. The measure also excludes an estimated 170,000 North Carolinians from collecting federal benefits, known as emergency unemployment compensation, which are designed to help the jobless once state benefits have been exhausted.
The unemployment rate in North Carolina remains well above the 7.9 percent national average, at 9.2 percent. Given the high rate of unemployment, how will the reduction of benefits affect the unemployed — who are already struggling to make ends meet?
Assuming that the unemployed can survive on less benefits (which is questionable,) once they have exhausted those benefits, and in the absence of another employment opportunity, it’s quite plausible that they could become homeless. The reduction of benefits will make it extremely difficult for the unemployed to pay their bills, their mortgage, or any other expenses that they may have.
While Mecklenburg County actually saw a slight reduction in the amount of people experiencing homelessness in 2012, on any given night, around 300 people sleep in places not meant for human habitation. Moreover, area shelters are over-capacity, and the very definition of a shelter, in Mecklenburg County especially, could be questioned.
Shelters by definition are designed to be temporary solutions for people seeking emergency shelter. However, due to overcrowding and shelters being used by the chronically homeless as permanent housing, some local shelters have implemented policies that exclude people from seeking shelter — until they can prove they have been homeless for 14 days. Therefore, if an unemployed person falls into homelessness in Mecklenburg County, they may have no other option but to reside in their car or on the street for two weeks.
Furthermore, once a person falls in to homelessness, it is tremendously difficult to get out of homelessness. Lack of an address or a place to shower so that they can look presentable for an interview, impede a person’s ability to obtain future employment.
While reducing unemployment benefits may protect North Carolina’s unemployment safety net, if homelessness increases across the state due to the reduction of unemployment benefits, North Carolina will have to fund more state programs that assist people experiencing homelessness.
-Nichole Jaworski, CBS Charlotte