Kathryn Treadway of Goldsboro, N.C., lost her job doing medical transcription work for a hospital early last year. The 35-year-old hasn't had an income since April 16, when an impasse between Republicans in the state legislature and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue halted her unemployment benefits.
On Friday, she finally found a job -- doing yard work for a statehouse Republican who thought Treadway couldn't find work because she had a bad attitude.
Stephen LaRoque, the Republican who represents Treadway in the lower chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly, said he'd pay her $8 an hour to deal with dirt and debris in his three-and-a-half acre yard in nearby Kinston.
"She said she wanted to do some work, and I got a whole lot of work to be done, and so she’s over here this morning doing some work," LaRoque told HuffPost on Friday. "I got her emptying pots right now. We planted pots that we had plants in, and [she's] getting the old plants out, dumping the dirt back into something so we can reuse it."
Treadway got this job after an incredibly testy exchange with LaRoque on Thursday. She emailed him to demand that Republicans lawmakers relent and send Perdue a bill that would restore the Extended Benefits program without any strings attached.
The federal program provides the final 20 weeks of checks to long-term jobless who use up 79 weeks of state and federal benefits without finding work. It's only available in states with high unemployment rates like North Carolina, where the rate is 9.7 percent. And this year it's only available if states proactively change their laws so they can keep it, something North Carolina has been uniquely unable to do.
In April, Perdue vetoed a bill that would have preserved the benefits because Republicans attached a resolution to cut the budget by 13 percent. The governor said it would have resulted in massive state layoffs. The GOP lawmakers insisted that their resolution would have only taken effect in the absence of a formal budget by the end of July.
Republicans tried again this week with a less severe bill, but Perdue won't budge.
As many as 46,000 North Carolinians have stopped receiving checks so far.
Treadway offered LaRoque a description of how the seven-week impasse has affected her family.
"We have already been evicted from our home and are currently in the process of moving in with my parents; that is my husband and my 2 daughters, in a small 2 bedroom brick home," Treadway wrote. "I am begging you on behalf of our family, before we lose absolutely everything, to please work out a compromise and pass the extension of these benefits to give us more time to try to help ourselves."
"We are not just 'riding' out the benefits," she continued. "I assure you I look every day in the paper, online, by word of mouth, to try and find something to help support my family. My husband works his butt off but even he cannot support 4 people on $8 an hour, a car payment and house payment to pay, school, books, sporting events the children are involved in."
LaRoque replied that there were plenty of opportunities nearby.
"I'm sorry that you have been unable to find work," he wrote. "Since you live in Wayne County I would like to suggest that you look into job openings in our area. We have a new chicken processing plant in Kinston named Sanderson Farms and they currently have 191 openings available according to the web site link below."
Treadway said she'd already tried that.
"The last thing I need, sir, is another politician acting as if the problem is that I am not applying for jobs," she wrote. "When I applied at Sanderson Farms, they were so inundated with applicants that the [North Carolina Employment Security Commission] (whom I was told to go through) literally wrote my name on a piece of paper with HUNDREDS of other names and disinterestedly told me they would 'call me if anything came open.'"
LaRoque didn't buy it.
"Most anyone can find a job if they can pass a drug test and are physically able to work," he wrote. "I have tried to find people to do yard work but it seems most are too good for manual labor. Based on the tone of your email it is not difficult to see why you can’t find a job."
"For your information sir, I can pass a drug test and am not opposed to manual labor," Treadway replied. "If your yard happens to be within 20 miles of Goldsboro, by all means I'll be over there with a rake and shovel first thing tomorrow morning."
"If you really meant that you would be willing to work in my yard, then plan to come tomorrow morning," LaRoque wrote. "I'll pay $8 per hour. Let me know if you are serious."
When Treadway arrived at 9 a.m. on Friday, LaRoque said he was not surprised: "I take people at their word."
Treadway, for her part, had told HuffPost earlier that morning that she didn't know if LaRoque was being serious. She worried that, if she showed up with a shovel or something, he might call the police. Instead, LaRoque put her right to work.
But it didn't last long: Treadway quit after an hour.
"It was just too much. I'm not used to doing manual labor, and the crap he wanted me to do was something two men would do," she said after leaving. "I’m used to making $22 an hour. I'm not gonna sit there for $8 and hour and come home having a stroke."
The National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, argues that unemployment insurance is designed to prevent people who lose their jobs from taking much worse ones, though people on Extended Benefits are supposed to take anything with pay comparable to that offered by the benefit program.
"The idea of insuring Americans against the economic harm that comes from involuntary job loss is to help them get back to a job somewhere close to where they fell off the economic ladder," NELP staff attorney George Wentworth said.
In other words, the benefits prevent surplus workers from driving down the cost of labor. Persuading a worker to downgrade from $22 an hour to $8 is what high unemployment does to the labor population as a whole. It also pushes skilled workers into less skilled positions, leaving talent untapped.
"I was having her doing some bending over. She said it was bothering her back," LaRoque said. "She stayed for about an hour and left. ... I gave her eight dollars and thanked her."
LaRoque said he hated that she left because he's still got so much yard work that needs doing. If you live near Kinston and want to do some yard work for $8 an hour, get in touch with LaRoque via his website.
As for the standoff in the North Carolina legislature, LaRoque said the focus is now on the full budget bill, which itself contains a reauthorization of Extended Benefits and could pass as soon as next week. Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger told HuffPost that Perdue’s office is paying close attention to the bill, but that nothing is certain.
"There’ve been some threats of a veto to that bill, as well," Berger said. "We are working to try to craft legislation that addresses what we are seeing as the concerns [the governor's] articulated in a way that's consistent with what we feel the people who elected us wanted us to do."