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Republicans Fight Back on Unemployment Dollars

Rosalind Helderman

Facing a growing tide of Democratic attacks, House Republicans today defended their decision to reject $125 million in federal unemployment money, arguing the dollars came with strings that would have been costly to Virginia business and cost jobs.

The April 8 vote is becoming a marquee issue on the campaign trail, as all three Democratic gubernatorial and other Democratic leaders looking to win back the Virginia House sense an opportunity to paint Republicans as sympathetic to the troubles of the state's unemployed. Democrats have said they will target Republicans who voted to turn back the money.

Joined by the heads of four small businesses, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and House Majority Caucus Chairman Samuel A. "Sam" Nixon Jr. (R-Chesterfield) insisted that federal rules meant accepting the money required changing Virginia's unemployment insurance program in a way could hurt job-creating businesses.

Specifically, Congress required states accepting the money to extend unemployment insurance to part-time workers and to allow the unemployed access to the insurance while enrolled in training courses.

"If Virginia is going to continue to attract and retain high paying jobs, we must be ever mindful not to increase the cost of doing business," Howell said.

They introduced folks like Donnie Caffrey, who owns a natural food store in Richmond and said he believed the changes to the unemployment insurance program would double his unemployment taxes. "It's a huge burden--just draw more blood out of me," he said.

They noted the General Assembly this year extended unemployment benefits for full-time workers by 13 weeks and extended COBRA health insurance benefits for those who have been laid off.

The Democrats shot right back. In an afternoon conference call, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong and former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer were joined by a Richmond businessman and a laid-off worker to press their case that the vote hurts thousands of unemployed Virginians. How unpopular do they think the Republican move was? They repeatedly compared it to the widely panned abusive driver fee program.

"It was just a horrendous vote and a vote against working people," Armstrong said.

But Howell said he is convinced voters will stand with Republicans on the issue in the fall.

"Long time to November," he said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  April 23, 2009; 2:39 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2009 , Rosalind Helderman  
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I support the decision. If the Feds want to give the money to the state with no strings attached, then we will take it. But Obama and Emanuel have no right to coerce the state into shortsighted, unhealthy policies that will endanger the long term economic outlook for Virgina-- one of the best run states in the union.

Posted by: hz9604 | April 23, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Obama backed the Republicans into a corner over this. He proposes wide-ranging social engineering programs and then labels opponents as "rejecting money for poor people" or some asinine equivalent. Refusing to accept $125 million dollars in Federal money that would drive $500 million in business out of the state is pretty straightforward math to me.

Posted by: zippyspeed | April 23, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Having gainful employment is a good way to stimulate the economy. I can't spend money if I don't have a job! Rejecting the stimulus funding is not good for VA workers.

Posted by: kinlay | April 23, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

The amount per employee PER YEAR in extra payroll taxes is about five bucks on top of one of the lowest unemployment tax burdens in the country. The GOP hasn't got anything but an ideological leg to stand on. Their tone-deafness continues to mystify and amaze me. The Democrats will take the House in November, so even if McDonnell squeaks in, he won't have much of a welcoming party.

Posted by: st50taw | April 23, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"Refusing to accept $125 million dollars in Federal money that would drive $500 million in business out of the state is pretty straightforward math to me.

Posted by: zippyspeed | April 23, 2009 6:02 PM"
Whose hat did that $500 million number come from?

Posted by: st50taw | April 23, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Federalizing and standardizing the regulations and benefits for workers will result in a more equitable application of rules across the country. This seems to be only fair, why should a Virginian get less in benefits than a worker in Michigan. Of course, this means the cost of doing business in Virginia will increase and employers will be reluctant to hire new employees who can't be discharged without great expense, but things won't get any worse here than in Michigan.

Posted by: droberts57 | April 23, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I can't possibly stand by flawed logic that suggests the Commonwealth will be better by not receiving help. Dollars need to be generated for spending; employment is necessary for that money to show up in the Commonwealth. If we allow all of our small businesses and major corporations collapse or relocate to more advantaged states, we will have to spend TONS more in the future to win back employers so that we can have jobs and create a competitive and healthy environment for earning a dollar. The argument that businesses will be hurt from stimulus money is nonsensical; the alleviation for dual part-time workers, trainees and the unemployed [that fall under a stipulated category] is a temporary expansion of that state benefit that meets the challenges of today. The GOP suggesting that it is a permanent move is incredibly flawed because it assumes that the unemployed numbers will stay high and only increase as the economy and job market gets better. They honestly are making a political move; there isn't any sense behind their approach and it's incredibly detrimental to the citizens of our Commonwealth.

Posted by: robsmithiii | April 24, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse


Quite right.

Posted by: jam222 | April 25, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

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