Thursday, May 7, 2009

VA Republicans: Following in the Footsteps of Gilmore

Considering the economic times we live, I wish I could say that it surprised me when Virginia Republicans voted to turn down the $125 million in Federal Stimulus money to extend unemployment benefits that would also include part time workers or people in approved job training programs. Well it didn't, but I was holding out hope that they would un-tether themselves from the short leash Virginia's Business Lobby has chained to their collars. The extension of unemployment benefits is entirely a temporary measure and will not require the states to make the extension permanent.

There seemed to be a familiar pattern to the latest GOP pimp slap of Virginia's struggling working families. Then a friend in Roanoke reminded me of how Jim Gilmore and the GOP totally botched the implementation of the Federal 2:1 match of FAMIS from 1997-2001. According to a Daily Press article by Lisa Finneran back in 2008, the Gilmore Administration and General Assembly Republicans "didn't get started until the end of 1998, a full year after federal funds became available, and then spent little money on advertising and training, leaving local social services departments scrambling to figure out how to administer it." They also made qualifying and receiving benefits extremely difficult, so much so that parents had to "cooperate with child support officials as a condition of getting insurance." Virginia was the only state with this requirement. Keep in mind, FAMIS was established to help children in families that made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but could not afford private health insurance. It took Gilmore and the General Assembly Republicans until 2001 to finally get it right.

Back to the issue at hand. While funding of SCHIP and FAMIS is still important and it also ties into the whole issue of Health Care Reform, turning away $125 million in unemployment benefits to help struggling families here in Virginia and send that money away to other states is just crazy. These are people that had jobs, did work and earned a living, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own. In extreme circumstances, unemployment benefits are extended to continue proving assistance to struggling workers as they continue to look new jobs. I don't know about you, but I call these extreme circumstances.

Despite the claims from Republicans that the extension of unemployment benefits will cause businesses to pay more taxes, what about the money that workers paid into the unemployment insurance fund? It's their money too, paid out of their earnings for just such circumstances.

At this point any money that is put in the hands of out of work people (full time, part time, or people in job training programs) goes directly back into local economies and at least helps to keep people in their homes a little longer and buy food for their families. I guess Virginia Republicans won't be happy until every social safety net is cut and there are tent cities and shanty towns all over Virginia. Fortunately for us, Virginia is no longer under the one-party control of the GOP. There is really no difference between the national GOP or the state GOP. Virginia Republicans, following in the footsteps of Gilmore. The question remains, will it take the Virginia GOP one year or four years to figure out that turning down the $125 million was the wrong decision?

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