'Moral Monday' Returns To North Carolina As Protesters Decry GOP Cuts To Unemployment Benefits

Just a day after drastic, GOP-backed cuts hit North Carolina's unemployment benefits program, thousands of protesters again gathered at the state's General Assembly building to voice their displeasure in the ninth consecutive "Moral Monday" protest.

The latest rally was largely focused on state Republicans' decision to hack away at benefits for the newly unemployed, a decision that will cause the state to become the first disqualified from a federal compensation program for the long-term jobless. GOP lawmakers passed the change to North Carolina's unemployment law in February, and it went into effect on Sunday. Among the immediate effects, those who had been collecting the maximum benefit of $535 now receive $350. Altogether, the move is expected to strip $700 million in federal unemployment compensation payments away from 170,000 unemployed people in a state that has the country's fifth-worst jobless rate.

“Having worked in that field for several years and to know personally and to have seen the heart break among the people getting benefits, this is just cruel,” Harry Payne, a former chairman of the state Employment Security Commission and former state labor commissioner, told the Raleigh News & Observer.

As has happened for the past eight weeks, protesters eventually streamed from the rain-soaked field outside the General Assembly into the building itself. Eighty were eventually arrested and removed by authorities, WBTV reported, bringing the nine-week arrest total to around 675.

While GOP-backed changes to unemployment stood out as a particularly poignant issue this week, protesters at "Moral Monday" rallies have expressed opposition to a number of issues pushed by Republicans, who took hold of both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship after the 2012 elections. Demonstrators have also taken aim at voter ID legislation, fracking, cuts to education spending and the rejection of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

Many state Republicans have meanwhile attempted to ignore "Moral Mondays" altogether. Others have called the protests "Moron Mondays" or "crap," or chosen to criticize them based on the cost to the state incurred by stationing extra law enforcement at the rallies. The News & Observer reported that Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has suggested that the General Assembly police chief issue citations rather than arrest the protesters, but the chief claimed that the arrests were the only way to disperse the crowd.

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