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March 07--The General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a bill to provide unemployment benefits to Virginians forced to leave their jobs because their spouses were reassigned by the military.
"It means that an individual whose spouse has orders to transfer someplace else doesn't have to feel as though, 'OK, I have a choice to stay with my family or keep my job,' " said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. "They can feel more comfortable in making that transfer knowing that until they find a job in their new location, they will be able to qualify for unemployment benefits."
The measure was approved 91-2 by the House and 40-0 by the Senate this week. Gov. Terry McAuliffe "fully supports the legislation" and "will sign it proudly," spokesman Brian Coy said in an email Thursday.
The bill, SB18, also won the backing of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. It would have minimal financial impact on employers and would help position Virginia "as the most military-friendly state in the country," Ira Agricola, the chamber's executive vice president of governmental affairs, said in an email.
The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated that about 485 Virginians each year would take advantage of the opportunity, Locke said.
Thomas Hinton, the senior state liaison for the department, said that assessment was based on the experience of other states, including Florida, that have such benefits. He cited several reasons that the number wouldn't be higher. For example, neither self-employed spouses nor those who also work for the military would be eligible.
A similar bill sponsored by Locke was enacted in 2009. But the Chamber of Commerce opposed it, Locke said, and the final version had no practical effect because a clause was tacked on requiring federal funding for the benefits.
The chamber supported the bill this year, Agricola said, because of two important changes. First, the benefits would be provided to "trailing military spouses" only if they move to states that have similar provisions.
About five other states don't have such policies, said Brooke Goldberg, the deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, based in Alexandria.
The second change: The current bill specifies that money for the benefits will come from the state's unemployment insurance pool, which all Virginia businesses pay into, as opposed to just the employers of the military spouses.
According to a fiscal impact statement accompanying the bill, it will require every Virginia business to contribute an additional 40 cents per year per employee to the pool.
That amounts to an increase of less than one-half of 1 percent. Businesses now pay $218.37 per employee, said William Walton, unemployment insurance director of the Virginia Employment Commission.
"We support it largely because we want military families to stay together during their permanent change of stations," said Goldberg, from the National Military Family Association. "Oftentimes, military families need two incomes. If they can't find an income and are not eligible for unemployment benefits, they sometimes have to resort to living in two geographical locations....
"We are very grateful that the state of Virginia has gotten aboard helping military spouses maintain their careers and assist them in transitioning from location to location," she said.
Philip Walzer, 757-222-3864,email@example.com
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