Sadly the General Assembly rejected $125 million in federal money at the Reconvened Session.
This funding was to extend unemployment benefits to Virginia workers who have lost their jobs in these tough times.
All that was required to be eligible to receive the money was to agree to implement two of four possible changes to the state’s program. Governor Kaine recommended that unemployment benefits be extended to persons who were enrolled in training programs that would enhance their ability to secure employment and to those who were employed part-time but lost their jobs.
For some reason, perhaps because the Republican nominee for Governor, Bob McDonnell, came out against taking the federal money, the Republicans in the General Assembly voted on party lines to reject the changes, and turned down the $125 million that would have not only benefited the unemployed workers and their families, but benefited the general economy.
The Senate Republicans seemed very conflicted about their votes. They employed parliamentary tactics to avoid a vote on the bill; then settled for a scenario that enabled them to approve one of the changes (the training eligibility) but not the one affecting part-time workers. Of course Virginia would not be eligible to receive the funds unless both changes were approved. In the end, there was a party-line vote of 21-19 in the Senate to approve both changes and accept the funding.
Alas, it went the other way in the House of Delegates. There the (close to) party line vote rejected the changes. One Democrat voted to reject the bill and two Republicans from districts with about 20% unemployment voted to accept it, And so it failed and Virginia’s money will go elsewhere.
The argument for rejecting the funds seemed to be that when the federal money was no longer available after a few years, employers would be liable for additional payments. That would be true only if the General Assembly did not repeal these changes. If the changes did remain in place, the employer would have to pay approximately $4.50 per employee per year
It seemed to me quite wrong to refuse to help unemployed Virginians because of a potential impact on employers some years down the road. These families are having real troubles right now during this recession and it seems to me that it’s in the public interest to tide them over, help them pay the rent and buy groceries, and get the money circulating throughout our economy.
To put costs to Virginia employers in perspective, you should know that the nationwide average insurance premium paid by employers for unemployment benefits is $258. In Virginia the employer pays $98 per employee per year.
We’re proud that Virginia is a business-friendly state, and want to maintain that climate. But I’m not proud that Virginia is 49th in the country in unemployment benefits. When people are out of work, none of us is better off.