In the metro area with the highest jobless rate in the state, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday that he would support legislation to reduce benefit payments for unemployed workers to speed payment of the state's debt to the federal government.
McCrory acknowledged that it was "not an easy decision for me because there are people hurting right now." He made the announcement at an Rocky Mount Area Chamber event, where the unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, well above the state rate of 9.2 percent.
But the Republican governor argued that "total reform" is necessary to pay down the state's $2.5 billion unemployment insurance debt to the federal government more quickly, even if it means the loss of extended federal benefits for 80,000 jobless workers, amounting to roughly $25 million a week.
"I'm saying right now let's pay off the credit card," McCrory said. "Because the longer we are on that credit card, paying interest ... the bigger the hole gets for you. And that's exactly what is happening in North Carolina."
The announcement is not surprising given McCrory's support on the campaign trail for urgent action on the issue. But the federal fiscal cliff deal raised the stakes by forbidding state from altering their unemployment benefit levels or risk losing federal benefits for those unemployed more than 26 weeks.
McCrory's endorsement of the deal represents the final piece needed with the House moving swiftly to approve the legislation and the Senate expected to follow suit.