This summer, North Carolina’s legislature elected to make dramatic changes to the state’s unemployment benefits. Effective July 1, maximum weekly payments dropped from $535 to $350 and the maximum number of weeks that state benefits will be paid dropped from 26 to 20. These changes come at a time when North Carolina’s unemployment rates remains over a full percentage point higher at 8.8% than the national average of 7.6%. The rates for Guilford County are even more disturbing at 9.5%. This decision has affected at least 70,000 North Carolinians of which 12,000 are in the Triad region. Equally disturbing is the legislators’ decision to disqualify the state from federal extended benefits by choosing to alter NC’s Unemployment Insurance standards without federal government approval. As a result, North Carolina is the only state that has lost its federal extended benefits.
What does this mean to Greensboro Urban Ministry and other non-profits which serve the hungry and poor? A greater need for food, utility, rent, and mortgage assistance, as more individuals and families fall into poverty, or even worse, homelessness. This problem is compounded by the timing of these changes. During the summer months the demands on services are already increased as children are out of school. Despite increased efforts by the government and school systems to continue free breakfast and lunch programs during summer months, many children do not have access to these meals. With their budgets already stretched thin, families with young children, like the child pictured above, are forced to turn to non-profit agencies to help make ends meet through community kitchen meals, food assistance bags, and financial assistance.
“We need a Revival of Compassion,” says Rev. Mike Aiken. On the part of our legislators and our community, we need to renew our commitment to helping the least of these. The problem is serious with 2,300 children in our community already identified as homeless. Working together, reviving our compassion, we can ensure that everyone is fed and has a warm bed in which to sleep.