The dramatic cuts North Carolina made to its unemployment insurance program this month drew fierce protests in Raleigh and national headlines. But they were just the latest in a string of unprecedented reductions states have made in unemployment aid even as unemployment rates remain high in much of the nation. Since 26 weeks became the standard length of unemployment benefit coverage decades ago, no state had offered less than that — at least until recently. Now Georgia's benefits last only 18 weeks, and North Carolina and four other states have limited their coverage to 19 or 20 weeks. With 4.3 million of the 11.8 million unemployed Americans having been without work for 27 weeks or longer, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the trend of states scaling back their unemployment benefits worries some safety-net advocates. "These are historic and disturbing cuts," said Mike Leachman Director of State Fiscal Research with the State Fiscal Policy division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "When the next recession hits, the unemployment system of the country is going to be significantly less effective. And it means the next recession will be deeper than it otherwise would have been." North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says states are only trying to pay back money borrowed from the federal government to cover the cost of extended unemployment benefits offered to long-term unemployed workers during the Great Recession. Overall, states collectively owe the federal government approximately $21 billion for loans they took out to keep their unemployment compensation funds afloat during the downturn. California leads that group, owing almost $9 billion. (STATELINE.ORG, USA TODAY, CAPITAL PUBLIC RADIO [SACRAMENTO])
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