Republicans Fight Back on Unemployment Dollars
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.
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