Republicans have legislated with several core principles since they took power in the N.C. General Assembly. There’s a devotion to tax cuts, especially for corporations and the wealthy. There’s a resistance to increased spending, especially when it comes to public education.
But another, subtler message has emerged from the budgets and bills that have passed in recent years: If life has handed you struggles, it’s probably really your fault.
Such was the signal lawmakers sent again in an otherwise benign bill the N.C. House passed Thursday. Senate Bill 15 made several small changes to the Division of Employment Security, including suspending a fee that replenishes a reserve fund for unemployment once the fund reaches $1 billion. But lawmakers couldn’t be satisfied with mere housekeeping.
The bill also increases the number of times unemployed workers would have to contact potential employers from two to five per week. Republicans say that provision would get people in the habit of looking for work.
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That’s a nice way of saying the jobless aren’t trying to find a job, which ignores the reality that the vast majority of people collecting unemployment are people who don’t want to be collecting unemployment. They want to work, because they want to feed their families and pay their bills, not “collect checks,” as some Republicans like to say.
Mandating five employer contacts a week doesn’t change that reality. What does it accomplish? Little, really.
It won’t stop the handful of people who are intent on not looking for job. Those people can take an hour or so to make five “contacts” with employees online – which the bill allows – then go back to not trying to find employment.
What the bill does do is create more unnecessary work for businesses, which have to receive, process and respond to all the new applications the bill will prompt.
It also creates more work for people who are trying to get a job, because they now have to take the time to document even more contacts with employers.
But at least lawmakers will be satisfied that no one is playing too much Xbox, or whatever it is that they think the unemployed are spending all their time doing.
This isn’t the first time N.C. Republicans have slapped at those struggling with joblessness. In 2013, North Carolina became the only state in the nation to cut off federal unemployment benefits. Lawmakers also made necessary fixes to the state’s unemployment insurance system, but put the burden of those fixes disproportionately on the unemployed.
Last week, at least one Republican recognized that the five-contacts-a-week provision was pointless. Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Ashe County said Thursday that it would “waste everyone’s time” – but the “everyone” he was talking about was employers who would have to deal with a new flood of applications.
As for the unemployed, well, Jordan and his colleagues didn’t seem too worried about them. It is, after all, probably their fault.