Monday, May 18, 2009

Unemployed and Poor Virginians Under the Boot of Republicans

Yet again Virginia is held up as an example of the difference between the haves and have-nots. The Monday, May 18, 2009 edition of the Virginian Pilot has an Editorial that cites two reports on how stingy Virginia is as far as distribution of benefits to the 739,000 that live below the poverty level in the “Commonwealth,” which is set at less than $20,650 per year for a family of four in Virginia. Keep in mind, Virginia is touted as one of the top states to do business and boasts a per-capita personal annual income of $41,561 with Northern Virginia leading the rest of the state with $53,595. That’s the average income for one person in Virginia.

The New York Times report highlighted some things that we already knew:

  • Per-capita Medicaid spending, Virginia ranks 47th out of 50 states.
  • Only 29% of unemployed in Virginia are receiving benefits.
  • Only four other states are stingier than Virginia in distributing jobless benefits, unemployment benefits that are meant for those that had jobs and are looking for new employment.
  • 71% of low-income children are enrolled in health insurance programs, while only 34% of poor adults are covered due to eligibility rules that block those that make more than $6,000 per year.

Virginia has stayed true to form, most recently when the Republican controlled House of Delegates block efforts by Governor Kaine and the rest of the General Assembly to temporarily allow the extension of unemployment benefits out of money from the federal stimulus to the tune of $125 million.

The second report, which I cited in my posting on May 9th, from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis made several recommendations for expansion of jobless aid and health insurance. One of those recommendations was to take advantage of federal incentives tied to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). In 2007, fewer than 50,500 children were enrolled TANF in Virginia out of the 96,000 that live in deep poverty (defined as annual incomes less than $11,000 for a family of four).

The Commonwealth Institute also pushed for reforms to Virginia’s regressive tax code. Despite taking wage earners off the tax rolls that make less than $22,000 per year, low-income Virginians are paying nearly nine times as much in sales taxes, fees, and other excise taxes than the top one percent of Virginians.

Fiscal conservatives, tax and budget hawks, are infamous for statements like “It’s your money. You know better how to spend it than the government.” If it’s our money, then why are Virginia’s House Republicans so stingy when it comes to money that we (me, you, and all Virginians) have paid into the social safety nets like TANF, unemployment benefits, and low-income health insurance? What’s the use of having a social safety net if we can’t get our money when we need it the most and in times of economic distress? Virginia’s General Assembly Republicans need to stop holding our money hostage that we’ve paid into, just for times like these. What hard learned lesson do Virginia Republicans hope to teach the working poor and unemployed by not giving them access to their money? It reminds me of Robin Hood, all over again.

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