Unemployment benefits stalemate splits jobless family

Unemployment benefits stalemate splits jobless family

Greg and Elizabeth Rain Georgaras, two of the 37,000 North Carolinians cut off from their employment benefits four weeks ago, can no longer afford to keep their two young children with them.

It recently fell to family to take in Roger, 3, and Victoria, 2, while the Concord couple keeps looking for work and hope that their unemployment benefits are restored soon.

“They’re no longer with me,” Greg said. “I just couldn’t keep them in these types of surroundings, not having food and the electricity about to be cut off.”

The family scraped together enough money for a round-trip bus ticket for Elizabeth to drop the children off with Greg’s parents in Florida last weekend.

Greg, 38, and Elizabeth Rain, 29, both of whom were laid off from their security officer jobs, had been receiving a total of $585 a week (before taxes) in federally-funded extended employment benefits. But, in North Carolina, the extended benefits were put in limbo last month when the GOP-controlled legislature attached a rider to a bill about the benefits that would have made Gov. Bev Perdue agree to a drastically reduced state budget.

Perdue vetoed the proposed bill on April 16, and the 37,000 affected haven’t received any money since. Republican leaders haven’t put forward any indications they’ll move to just restore the benefits, while their Democratic counterparts are trying to push through clean bills that would restore the benefits and leave the budget fight to another time.

As the legislative leaders held press conferences this week to talk about the benefits, the Georgaras family was adjusting to living without their children. On Monday, Greg’s parents told them Victoria was asking repeatedly where her mother was.

“Thank goodness they’re young enough where you can fool them,” Greg said, explaining that his children don’t know the extent of the family’s predicament.

The couple wasn’t always this bad off.

Greg had worked for almost 20 years at the Philip Morris USA plant in Concord, as a security officer with a private company that contracted with the cigarette manufacturer. His wife Elizabeth worked for the same security contractor at the plant, and when the plant closed in the summer of 2009 both lost their jobs. She had a security job for a few months at a downtown Charlotte business, but that too fell through after a few months.

Since then, Greg has gone to job interviews all over the state and Southeast and is willing to relocate his family. He’s applied for jobs at gas stations and convenience stores, only to be told he’s over-qualified and they can’t hire him for a job usually given to high school students or those without much education. He has three years of college studies in criminal justice, and has certifications to provide security in several states.

“As soon as they see me, they say you don’t fit in the environment,” he said. “The sad fact is that I could use the $8, $9 or $10 an-hour jobs to put food on the table.”

He recently got a call about a promising job 40 minutes outside of Concord. But he no longer has the money to put gas in his car, and he’s been unable to get to the job interview, he said.

He said he routinely worked 80 hours a week before he was laid off, and bristles at the characterization of the unemployed workers as lazy.

“Of these people looking, they’re struggling every day to find a job,” Greg said.

“Most of them have never received welfare or any type of assistance before. It’s just another form of bashing the middle and lower class.”

After nearly two years of unemployment, the family’s savings are wiped out and they have nothing else stored away to tide them over until better times arrives.

They have no phone, computer or Internet, and depend on a neighbor’s phone in order to get updates about their children and to leave as a contact for potential employers.

Greg’s had to borrow money from his parents to keep the lights on, and now they’re caring for his children.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “They’ve been wire transferring me money, sending me checks.”

With the electricity due to be shut off, the Georgaras are also not sure when they’ll be evicted now that they’re unable to make the $800 monthly rent on their apartment. Food is another concern.

He hopes that the state Legislature, and governor, set aside their differences soon so he can get some money to put gas in his car and get to those job interviews.

“I’m just trying to get ahead,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Listen this weekend as Greg Georgaras shares more of his story on News and Views with Chris Fitzsimon.

Questions? Comments? You can reach reporter Sarah Ovaska at [email protected]