Agency pleads for job training funds as Republicans move to cut benefits

Winston-Salem Urban League President Keith Grandberry, flanked by Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) and Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg), carried the voice of unemployed workers to Raleigh on opening day of the General Assembly's long session.

Representatives of the Winston-Salem Urban League went to Raleigh today to plead for additional funding for job training programs as Republican lawmakers forged ahead with plans to reduce benefits to unemployed workers on the first day of the long session.

"That middle-class gentleman that comes down to the Urban League, who's done everything right — I mean, done everything right — worked at that job at RJ Reynolds or Wells Fargo for 16 years — got caught up in the layoffs and is now without a job, can't find a job because they've been at one job for so many years and their mindset hasn't changed, come down to the Urban League, they need to be heard because they have a family," President Keith Grandberry said during a press conference.

Despite the geographic reference in its name, the agency serves 21 counties and a number of cities in addition to Winston-Salem, including Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham.

Meanwhile, Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie, Forsyth) filed a legislation today to reduce unemployment benefits and begin rebuilding the fund. She said the House Finance Committee, which she chairs, will consider the bill tomorrow. The lawmaker acknowledged that the bill is "rather lengthy," but turned down a request by Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) to postpone the hearing by one day to give Democrats a chance to read the bill.

Members of the Democratic caucus disagree with the cuts to benefits received by unemployed workers, but hold little power to influence the legislation.

"Cutting workers off at the knees, as we're talking about in upcoming legislation will not be the answer," said Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham). "That will not be a bridge that helps us re-employ our citizens and bring our new workforce forward."

Hall, who was recently elected minority leader by the Democratic caucus, acknowledged that his party is operating from a weakened position.

"Certainly we know that there's a different makeup of the General Assembly this session than there was last session," he said. "We know there's no veto threat. There's no potential to negotiate and defeat bills and have them reconsidered with more input by our caucus. This is a different environment."

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