North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) issued an executive order Friday unilaterally reinstating unemployment insurance for 47,000 laid off North Carolinians. The benefits had stopped because of an impasse between Perdue and Republicans in the state legislature that has dragged on since April.
"For weeks, I have been trying to work with the Republican legislative leaders to get them to do the right thing: send me a clean bill to extend the unemployment benefits for 47,000 North Carolinians who have lost their jobs," Perdue said in a statement. "Instead, they have persistently attempted to use our unemployed workers as hostages by tying the extension of their benefits to my acceptance of budget bills that would inflict severe and unnecessary cuts to our schools and other essential programs."
Perdue continued: "Today, I am issuing an executive order extending federal unemployment benefits to these 47,000 North Carolinians. Republican leaders in the General Assembly have been unwilling to take the necessary steps to extend these benefits, and no doubt they will attempt to interfere with this action."
Indeed, Republicans suggested they might interfere.
“If the Governor does, in fact, have the authority to do this, I'm shocked that it took seven weeks for her to figure it out," State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) said in a statement. "It’s probably more than a coincidence that she chose this action on the same day that we are approving a budget to fix this problem. We must hold the Constitution sacred –- we cannot allow a Governor to rule the state by decree."
A Perdue spokeswoman said the U.S. Department of Labor told the News & Record that the federal government had reviewed the order and agreed to release the money.
The benefits lapsed because the state lost eligibility for the federal Extended Benefits program, which gives 20 weeks of benefits for long-term jobless who exhaust 79 weeks of combined state and federal benefits. The state lost its eligibility because its political leaders couldn't agree on a bill to realign its eligibility "trigger" with a new federal standard, implemented to allow states to keep the Extended Benefits program, that took effect in December.
It's not unheard of for governors to modify their states' Extended Benefits triggers by executive order, according to the National Employment Law Project, which specifically cited a 2009 order from Kentucky Gov. Steve Brashear (D) and a 2010 order by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R).
In April, Perdue vetoed a bill that would have preserved the benefits because statehouse Republicans attached conditions that the governor said would have resulted in massive state layoffs. Perdue strongly suggested she'd veto subsequent attempts.
John Allison of Charlotte, N.C., who had followed the political process closely, had been disappointed by the lack of compromise. He didn't know Perdue could reinstate the benefits herself.
"Why didn't she do this weeks ago?" he asked. Allison, an unemployed landscaping consultant whose predicament HuffPost previously covered, has been worried about making his rent since his benefits stopped in April. On Friday, he said he had $3 left.