The local economy, already bruised by a persistently high jobless rate, could take another hit as the new year begins, regardless of who is elected president.
That's because all federal extended unemployment benefits will expire Dec. 29 unless Congress acts to extend them again.
If the expiration occurs, North Carolinians would receive just up to 26 weeks of regular state benefits if they qualify for unemployment benefits, rather than what had been up to 99 weeks of state and federal benefits.
Which means anyone whose job was terminated or ended after June 30 will not get any more federal unemployment benefits.
Bobbi Wessling, manager of the Winston-Salem office of the N.C. Division of Employment Security, said her office has been informing jobless-benefit recipients of the pending expiration.
"We're continuously reminding them on the phone and when they come to see us," Wessling said. "They are concerned, of course, because for many of them the benefits are their only source of income."
North Carolina was one of 22 states whose unemployed recipients could receive up to the 99 weeks, in part because its unemployment rate stayed above 8 percent for several years.
Extending the federal jobless benefits will be crucial since more than half of unemployed North Carolinians have been out of work for more than 26 weeks, said Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the N.C. Justice Center.
"Losing that income will blow a hole through their households, with a ripple effect to be felt throughout local communities," Sirota said.
Ericka Perryman, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said extending the federal unemployment benefits will be "one of a number of issues that will be considered, and hopefully resolved, during a very busy lame-duck session of Congress."
U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., could not be reached for comment on whether they support another round of extended federal benefits. Hagan spokeswoman Hannah Smith said she is not aware of any current effort.
Hagan said in an Oct. 19 statement about the September state jobless rate that "we need to stop the partisan bickering in Washington and focus on action that gets North Carolinians back to work."
"They cannot wait for action that moves our economy forward, and neither can the businesses that don't have the certainty they need to hire more people."
Larry Parker, acting public information director for the N.C. Division of Employment Security, said he not been made aware of any attempt to extend the benefits in Congress.
"Many Congressional Democrats are anxious to deal with this during the lame duck session as part of any deal regarding the fiscal 2013 budget," said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
"Many of their states are still in deep jobs deficits and they don't want to see millions of people cut off from the only income source they have. It's telling that President Obama is not proposing to extend the payroll tax cut but still supports (the federal unemployment benefits)."
The outcome of the presidential election could hold the keys to whether extended benefits are discussed, much less approved, said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a libertarian policy-research group in Raleigh.
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