CaugHT in THe Middle

Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

Greg Smith, right, does schoolwork Thursday at the Franklin County Library in Louisburg with his son, Matthew, 5. Smith is pursuing an online business degree with a concentration in management at the Colorado Technical University.

Unemployed suffer during political stalemate
By geoffrey Cooper
Staff Writer

CASTALIA – As the telephone inside Greg Smith’s modular home rings nonstop, he is hesitant to pick up because he knows bill collectors are on the opposite end. The former freight truck driver and single father of two boys – Christian, 13, and Matthew, 5 – is down to his last bit of money to pay for past due bills, food, toiletries, utilities and other necessities. Without the continuation of his $297 weekly unemployment benefits, Smith said he and his sons are on the verge of losing their home of 13

years. “That’s going to be a blow that I won’t know how to take. I can’t say I’m prepared for that,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of memories here in this home. But now, there’s nothing but pressure; there’s nothing but stress.” Smith, 41, is one of more than 43,000 state residents who are waiting for Democrats and Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly to end a stalemate over a bill that would extend unemployment benefits. The political deadlock between the parties has been ongoing since midApril, when Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a continuing resolution which would

have extended unemployment benefits and triggered automatic state spending cuts July 1 if a final state budget was not in place. A second continuing resolution was introduced earlier this week, again with the unemployment benefits attached to similar cuts. Larry Parker, public information officer for the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina, said in a telephone interview when the unemployment benefits program ended April 16, there were 347 Edgecombe County residents and 381 Nash County See STALEMATE, 3A

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residents who received benefits that week. Parker said roughly 37,000 state residents began receiving unemployment benefits in October 2008, totaling up to $11 million every week. He said he is certain that the figure since has climbed somewhere between 43,000 to 46,000. Smith said he usually votes for conservative candidates in elections but will not do so in 2012. Smith said he is disappointed that Republicans would link the unemployment benefits to the state budget when the money primarily comes from the federal government and that Perdue hasn’t been more vocal about the matter. “It never should have happened,” Smith said. “Our legislators should never have placed the families of North Carolina in jeopardy as they have in order to promote their political agenda.

“It’s federal money, and it never should have been tied to a state budget. If they want to squabble about the budget, well find something else to squabble with.” Smith worked at Dean Transport in Franklinton as a truck driver for 23 months until he was let go in August 2009. He started drawing unemployment benefits payments in the first week of October 2009 and also received food stamps. He said the payments were not sufficient but he did the best he could to make the money stretch. Smith faces an electricity bill of more than $200, a car insurance payment, $39 left in food stamps and two late house payments. Some of Smith’s friends have stepped forward to help, but that might not be enough, he said. “It’s depressing to think about,” Smith said. “I took great pride in knowing I could provide for my family ... To . sit here and see my kids suffer like this, it just hurts, and it’s embarrassing. I feel helpless.”

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