NC JUSTICE NEWS: Unemployment Insurance Program + NC Health Exchange + Predatory Lending

UNEMPLOYMENT: House Bill 676 protects workers without the games

On Saturday, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed legislation that would have ensured extended benefits for thousands of unemployed workers in North Carolina because the bill would also have forced massive budget cuts.

Legislators still have a chance to protect those jobless workers and their families. House Bill 676 would ensure that NC workers facing long-term unemployment can continue to receive extended benefits, a special program instituted when the unemployment rate remains persistently high. The unemployment insurance program supports workers who are looking for jobs and also maintains a level of consumer spending that can support business growth over time.

If HB 676 doesn't pass, the Employment Security Commission estimates that 37,000 individuals will immediately lose unemployment benefits and thousands more would follow suit each month thereafter. State policymakers must act quickly to ensure that the extended benefits program continues in North Carolina in order to protect thousands of families who continue to recover from the Great Recession.

With hundreds of thousands of people unemployed in North Carolina, state leaders must support working families instead of dismantling basic protections for workers and making it more difficult for those who are unemployed to receive benefits.

DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE: Awards ceremony is May 19, so get your tickets today!

Every year, the Justice Center presents its Defender of Justice Awards to individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the fight against poverty in four areas that reflect the scope of our work. We hope you join us for this celebration of North Carolina's progressive community.

The NC Justice Center's
2011 Defenders of Justice Honorees

Thursday, May 19, 6 pm - 9 pm
American Tobacco Campus, Bay 7, Durham, NC


State Senator Josh Stein of Wake County for his commitment to expanding protections for homeowners, consumers and low-income families throughout North Carolina

State Representative Angela Bryant of Nash County for her work to improve NC's systems of civil, criminal and juvenile justice, fight poverty, promote economic development and affordable housing, and secure equal rights for women and people of color

Democracy North Carolina for fighting to protect voting rights, increase voter participation and reduce the influence of big money in politics

The law firm of Elliot, Pishko and Morgan of Winston-Salem for two decades of effective and passionate advocacy for workers' rights and civil rights

Coalición de Organizaciones Latino-Americanas (COLA) of Asheville for their work improving the lives of workers and families in Latino communities in western North Carolina

Community Success Initiative for empowering and giving hope to people released from incarceration and helping them access the services and opportunities they need to build new lives


MODERNIZING REVENUE: BTC plan would decrease budget shortfall

As we've been saying for years now, North Carolina's budget woes are due in large part to the state's inadequate, unfair and unstable revenue system. Now the Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center has developed a comprehensive plan to modernize the system that would dramatically decrease the state's budget shortfall, protect investments in education and other public structures, and be much fairer to taxpayers.

The information in the report is not new—numerous public and private commissions have developed proposals for modernizing North Carolina's revenue system. The BTC's plan looks at each part of the revenue system, explains what's working and what's not, and details the needed changes—all with a focus on the effects on low- and moderate-income North Carolinians and the state's investments in the public structures.

Don't let the conservative lawmakers tell you severe budget cuts are necessary. North Carolina has other options—responsible options that will set North Carolina on a path to a prosperous future and spare us from this annual budget nightmare.

NC HEALTH EXCHANGE: HB 115 would deny consumer protections

So far in the NC General Assembly, not one member of the public or a consumer group has been allowed to comment on the fast-marching bill that would strip health reform of many of its consumer protections.

The bill would give Blue Cross considerable power in the new health exchange, which is supposed to serve as a consumer-focused insurance marketplace and watchdog. But House Bill 115, the baby of Davidson Republican Rep. Jerry Dockham, would severely undermine the exchange's ability to serve and protect consumers.

Today, after weeks of being shut out, the public may have an opportunity to speak on this bill when the House Insurance Committee takes it up this afternoon. This may well be the one opportunity individuals and small businesses will have to stand up to Blue Cross NC and the insurance industry as these special interests try to steal away health reform.

The committee meeting is today at 1pm, in the Legislative Building, Room 1228/1327. To sign up to speak, contact Rep. Dockham’s office (919-715-2526 or and ask Ms. Irwin to sign you up!

PREDATORY LENDING: Consumer bill would cost state millions

North Carolina has a tradition of strong consumer protection laws, especially when it comes to lending. Yet legislators are scheduled to vote this week on House Bill 810 (Consumer Finance Act Amendments), a bill that would benefit large financial institutions and cost the state millions. Under the bill, storefront lenders would be permitted to increase interest rates and fees—which together already add up to a catastrophic 54 percent Annual Percentage Rate —into triple-digit percentage rates.

The Center for Responsible Lending conservatively estimates that the bill would cost NC consumers an extra $90 million every year. At the same time, a number of national and international financial industry behemoths would gain profit from the bill, including CitiFinancial and American General. In short, giant corporations would soon dominate the consumer lending industry at a time when the industry is already profitable and millions of North Carolina consumers are struggling with family budgeting and high-cost debt.

SUBCOMMITTEE PROPOSALS: Monitoring budget talks

The Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center is monitoring budget talks in General Assembly's appropriations subcommittees, and so far the news is dire. Rather than taking a balanced approach and raising needed revenue, they want to slash funding for public education, higher education, health and human services, and the justice and public safety system, thereby crippling North Carolina’s economic recovery.

If North Carolina’s leaders are serious about paving the way for successful families and communities, then they must maintain investments in vital public systems and structures – our schools, our hospitals, our colleges, our roads, our first responders, and so much more. The only way to do that is to take a practical, balanced approach to the state budget, and that means including equitable, stable, and adequate revenue sources in the budget.

North Carolina has options! These proposed cuts are not necessary, not sensible and not fair to the people of the state. The BTC folks have looked at the subcommittee proposals and have listed measures that close loopholes, make the tax code fairer and raise enough money to prevent these cuts.

STUDENT LOANS BILL: Gov. Perdue puts veto power to good use

On April 13, Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed House Bill 7, which would have limited students' options in attending community college by eliminating a requirement for schools to make federal loans available to their students.Gov. Perdue’s decision was a critical and admirable step in protecting workers, students, and North Carolina’s economic future.

Community colleges have played a pivotal role in providing education and job training for working families at an uncertain time for the state's economy. Yet tuition has increased more than 17 percent since 2005, and House Bill 7 would have limited access to badly-needed federal loans for North Carolina’s students and workers in need of retraining.

"Unfortunately, North Carolina’s community colleges have become more expensive just as workers need them most," said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center. "Federal loans are a crucial support for students, and Gov. Perdue's decision will help those students improve North Carolina's future."