RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Severance payments and benefits have been drawn down for at least 1,600 laid-off state government and education workers since July, North Carolina's state budget office said Wednesday. It again raises questions about the extent of layoffs caused by the Republican-penned budget.

The Office of State Budget and Management told legislative budget-writers that $23.7 million had been allocated as of Nov. 1 from $69 million that the General Assembly set aside in a severance reserve fund. The money gives displaced workers a cash severance payment as well as Social Security contributions and up to 12 months of health insurance coverage.

The state budget office said the reserve paid to state departments has distributed to government agencies the equivalent of 1,629 full-time workers — meaning the number of workers is likely a little greater because not everyone who was laid off was a full-time employee. More severance requests were expected during the fiscal year as workforce reductions continue, the budget office said.

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