Jobless Virginians need unemployment benefits

Published 11:11 am Saturday, April 25, 2009

The commonwealth had been given a chance last week to gain $125.5 million in federal aid, which would have filled dwindling coffers and expanded benefit eligibility for our growing jobless population.

The federal stimulus package promised a portion to states that met certain criteria, and the governor amended a bill to meet those qualifications. This included extending benefits to unemployed workers who are in training to boost their resumes and to part-timers who lost their jobs.

The money would have bolstered the state unemployment fund, which is expected to run dry in the next couple of years — whether we bounce back from the recession by then or not.

In a near party-line vote, the Republican-led House of Delegates refused the money, and now that $125 million will be sent to another state.

It’s been little more than a week since we legislators left the political fray of our capital city. While we return to our jobs, catching up with our busy lives, the residents of Eastern Virginia remain the faces behind the statistics.

No matter which side of the issue anyone is on, families still struggle to pay their bills, especially here.

Political posturing doesn’t detract from the fact that there are about 300,000 Virginians out of work right now. The commonwealth’s unemployment rate is more than 6.6 percent.

In Franklin alone, the unemployment rate is among the highest in the state at 10.1 percent. To meet demand, the Virginia Employment Commission will open another eastern office because we are one of the hardest hit areas. This office opens May 4 in Portsmouth.

Thousands of residents have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

After the vote, delegates told reporters that expanding unemployment benefits would have taxed businesses into oblivion once stimulus funds ran out.

But the truth is, Virginia ranks 49 out of 50 states in unemployment taxes paid by businesses. Employers would have only had to pay up to $4.50 more a worker a year after the federal stimulus money ran out.

As a business investor, I support expanded benefits. I understand how much middle- and lower-class families are hurting from the recession and how long it might be before we securely returned to the economic height w used to know.

My commitment to helping Virginians will remain untarnished.

This year, I supported bills including authorizing the Chesapeake City Council to provide for the emergency replacement of the Jordan Bridge and boosting the Virginia Investment Partnership Grant Program, which will create hundreds of jobs. I also supported a bill to expand unemployment benefits to spouses who move to stay with their spouses in the military.

And I will continue to support bills that significantly help Virginia’s families during these tough economic times.

I’m asking my fellow legislators, no matter their politics, to do the same.