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37,000 Jobless Lose Benefits In North Carolina Standoff

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BENNIES
AP

WASHINGTON -- A standoff between Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has halted unemployment insurance for 37,000 jobless in the state.

Both sides keep saying they want to restore the benefits, but no apparent progress has been made since Perdue vetoed a Republican bill because it attached the preservation of benefits to double-digit budget cuts. The legislature is set to adjourn early in June.

Charlotte's John Allison, 37, told HuffPost the stalemate reminds him of a game of chicken, except "the person controlling the car’s not even in it."

"It’s a remote control game of chicken and I’m tied in the seat," he said.

Allison said he lost his job as a landscaping consultant in July 2009 and has been surviving thanks to $281 a week in unemployment insurance. The checks stopped after April 16, when the federal Extended Benefits program expired in the state. Lawmakers had failed to change an eligibility trigger that activates extended benefits only if the jobless rate has risen in the past two years. The rate in North Carolina hasn't risen, but it hasn't fallen precipitously, either; it currently stands at 9.7 percent.

In December, when Congress reauthorized federal benefits through 2011, lawmakers invited states to modify their EB triggers so they could remain eligible for the benefits, but several states have unexpectedly failed to do so. The EB program provides the final 20 weeks of benefits for long-term jobless who've exhausted 79 weeks of combined state and federal assistance.

Allison said he'd previously expected his benefits to continue until August. All of a sudden, he says, he has no way to make his rent: "If [EB] doesn’t go through by the end of the month, I’ll probably have to move back home," he said.

State Senate leader Phil Berger (R) has said Republicans are waiting for Perdue to propose a compromise. Perdue, for her part, has said she's waiting for the legislature to send over a clean bill.

Allison said he doesn't like the all-or-nothing strategy on display. "To me that’s not what democracy is," he said.

For his part, Allison said he's had some success in his job search since he started compromising and applying for retail jobs that pay $8 an hour. "I’ve just now started getting really positive responses back ... now that I’m applying for a lot less high paying jobs," he said.

Yet he hopes the benefits are restored in case he doesn't find work before the next month's rent is due. He's been emailing lawmakers and said one responded to say there would be a renewed effort to pass legislation next week. "I am hoping that will be a legitimate effort and not just a 'Well, we tried' kind of thing," Allison said.

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