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House GOP turns back on those hit hardest by recession

(Updated with statements from Del. Chris Saxman and Democratic legislative candidates Erik Curren and Greg Marrow appearing under our Comments section.)
One thousand, one hundred and thirty two. That’s a real number for you, specifically how many more Waynesboro residents are out of a job as of the most recent report of the Virginia Employment Commission. More real numbers – 953 people are on the unemployment roll in Staunton as of the February report of the VEC, while 2,925 Augusta County residents are looking for work.

That’s 5,020 people here in our hometowns who just got told to eff off by House Republicans.

“Because the federal government wants to dangle money in front of us – and I know that’s very tempting – to change some sound policies that have worked so well for this Commonwealth for so many years,” said State Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County, who voted with the House Republican majority to reject $125 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment insurance for the 2,692 people who might have a different view on the “sound policies that have worked so well for this Commonwealth for so many years” than Ms. Byron.

The 53-46 vote was largely party-line in nature, and the 21-19 vote in the State Senate was entirely so, with all 19 Republicans in the senior chamber voting against the technical amendment offered by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, that would have made the state eligible for expanded uninsurance benefits for the thousands of Virginians waylaid by the ongoing economic downturn.

Joining the lemmings in the partisan-tinged vote were all four of the Central Shenandoah Valley’s representatives in the House of Delegates – Chris Saxman in the 20th, Ben Cline in the 24th, Steve Landes in the 25th and Matt Lohr in the 26th, all of whom will happen to have Democratic Party opponents this fall.

It’s hard for me to fathom how this could be a partisan issue for them, though you have to assume that it is that, given the nature of how the vote went down. The state has already received $62.5 million from the federal government toward the extension of unemployment benefits, but another $125 million is out there that Virginia is currently not eligible to receive under current state law because the State Code does not offer access to unemployment benefits to part-time workers, people enrolled in job-retraining programs, workers with dependent children and workers with extraordinary circumstances including those who have given up their jobs to move with a spouse relocating to take a new job.

Kaine’s proposed amendments would have allowed an additional 26 weeks of benefits for people who are enrolled in job retraining, would permit people laid off from part-time work to seek new part-time work and would add an additional 13-week extension for benefits to the in-place 20-week extension on top of the regular 26 weeks in benefits.

The $125 million in additional monies to go toward these changes would pay for the extensions of the benefits as proposed by Kaine for an estimated 7-10 years.

“Paying workers not to work does not promote economic growth,” the politically tone-deaf Byron said, implying, it seems to me, that she thinks people currently on the unemployment front lines are there because they want to be there.

Otherwise, I can’t imagine objections to extending benefits for those going through a job-retraining program and more generally extending benefits for those who have been out of work now for an extended period. More than 5.1 million jobs have been lost nationally since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, with two-thirds of those losses just in the last five months.

The only point of controversy that I could see would be in the area of benefits for part-time workers, though if that were the beef it would represent a fundamental misunderstanding of our economic climate right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of what are called involuntary part-time workers – that is, people who want and need full-time jobs, but have had to take part-time jobs to do what they can to make ends meet – is at 9 million people. That’s not far off from the total of 13.2 million people currently listed as unemployed, so what we’re talking about here is a sizable portion of our population that are actually, to borrow from Byron’s clumsy phrasing, being penalized by Virginia Republicans for having made the call to go out and work part-time when they could possibly do just as well or better collecting an unemployment check.

So this makes absolutely no policy sense. What I’m afraid is going on here is Republicans got to Richmond for this week’s reconvened session in the wake of the brouhaha over the dismissal of embattled Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jeff Frederick and heard from the far-right party base that heads among the electeds were going to roll as a result and decided that a vote against something backed by President Barack Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine would be red meat for the base to feast upon.

I don’t know that it’s going to work in the end, but I do know that the attempt is going to make life a helluva lot harder for a helluva lot of people in the meantime.


– Story by Chris Graham

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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