Va. May Help When Military Orders Moves

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

The General Assembly has approved legislation that would allow spouses of relocated military personnel to draw Virginia unemployment insurance benefits if they quit their jobs to leave the state with their families.

The one problem: The money would have to come from the federal government, which has not approved it.

The law would expand the definition of "good cause" for leaving employment to cover an employee who voluntarily left a job to accompany the relocated military spouse. Virginia considers leaving a job to follow a military spouse a "voluntary quit" and does not award unemployment insurance benefits to those relocated workers.

About 71,000 enlisted military personnel live in Virginia, with about 36,000 spouses in the state labor force. According to the U.S. Census, nearly 10,000 non-civilians lived in Fairfax County and were employed by one of the branches of the armed services in 2007. The bill would provide a full 26 weeks of benefits and would apply to the spouses of non-civilian personnel in all four branches of the military and the National Guard, according to the measure's sponsor, Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton).

"If you really think about it, it's not a voluntary move for the spouse if their husband or wife is ordered to relocate," Locke said in an interview this week.

Virginia would join 44 other states that have some form of unemployment insurance benefits for the spouses of military personnel, Locke said. The state is home to some of largest military bases in the world and has the third-highest number of enlisted personnel of any state. Virginia budget writers estimate that the change would cost $7 million over eight years.

But despite the bill's passage, it's future is uncertain. State senators objected that the federal government should bear the expense. The chamber amend Locke's bill to require that Washington pick up the tab for the additional costs. Locke said that would effectively kill the bill because the federal government has failed to cover these costs in the past.

When a House of Delegates committee considered the bill, it removed the Senate amendment. But the full House reversed that decision and passed the Senate version on an 85 to 14 vote Tuesday. Advocates for the bill said they will ask Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to remove the amendment and return it to the General Assembly for action in April.

Advocates said that in a poor economy, the measure was a good way to help military families.

"It's great for our military families and would show that we support what they do for us," said Ty Jones, a staff lawyer for the Virginia Poverty Law Project, an advocacy group in Richmond.

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