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Federal lawmakers debate reinstating extended unemployment benefits

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RALEIGH - The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on whether to restore extended federal unemployment benefits.

But even if Congress reinstates the extended benefits, it may not help people here in North Carolina.

Last summer, the General Assembly turned down federal extended unemployment benefits.

“I'm college educated," said Judy Bowers, who has been out of work for nearly a year and a half. "I never thought I'd be on food stamps.”

She said she's been barely scraping by since North Carolina cut off her extended unemployment benefits back in July.

Despite having more than 10 years experience in administrative services, she's only been able to secure part-time work at minimum wage.

“Last week I made $65,” she said. “It doesn't go far enough for the bills. I'm at a point, now I'm drowning.”

“170,000 North Carolinians were cut off from the lifeline they had relied on to support their families while they were struggling to find jobs in this tough economy,” said Sen. Kay Hagan, a democrat representing North Carolina.

Hagan wants Congress and North Carolina lawmakers to reinstate extended unemployment benefits, saying it would not only help those out of work, but the state's economy as well.

“Because of this legislation, our state's economy lost $780 million that would have otherwise gone to paying the electricity bill, paying the rent, buying groceries, buying gas,” she said. “Our North Carolina federal tax dollars are going now to unemployed workers in every other state except North Carolina.”

Even though federal dollars would pay for the extended unemployment benefits, state lawmakers still don't want the money, and say it isn't as simple as it sounds.

“Federally funded means we borrow it from the Chinese and the Saudis and put it on our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren,” said NC House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam, a republican. “There's no free money tree in Washington [D.C.]. Washington is $17 trillion in debt.”

“They're looking at the business end of life,” Bowers said of state lawmakers. “They're not looking at the people of North Carolina.”

She said bringing back her extended unemployment check could keep her from becoming homeless, while she continues her frustrating job search.

“It gives you some hope,” she said. “It buys me some more time before I end up on the street.”

If the Senate votes to reinstate the extended unemployment benefits, the House of Representatives must also approve it.

Then, North Carolina would have to agree to accept the federal benefits, although it would not require legislative approval.

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