Unemployed won't be forced to volunteer

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By Landmark News Service

RICHMOND — A Senate committee on Jan. 30 killed legislation aimed at requiring Virginia unemployment recipients to perform volunteer service work to remain eligible for benefits.
On a voice vote, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee shot down Sen. Bill Stanley’s bill amid concerns that passing it would put Virginia out of conformity with federal law and jeopardize a credit that state employers receive on their federal unemployment taxes.
Stanley (R-Franklin County), who represents parts of the Twin Counties, said the intent of his bill (SB 69) was to keep unemployed workers active while they pursue new jobs and to benefit the communities where they live.
His bill would require unemployment recipients to perform at least 24 hours of volunteer service per week for a nonprofit or charitable institution, but allow the Virginia Employment Commission the discretion to waive the requirement. The law would not have taken effect until the state unemployment compensation commission studied the issue.
“We have a lot of skilled and unskilled laborers who are sitting on the sidelines right now and are receiving benefits, and for long periods of time, and not getting back in the game,” he said.
“It will help the poor and the impoverished and the needy,” Stanley said.
Committee members were skeptical.
“What’s the difference between this and slave labor?” asked Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax County).
“You may see this as a punishment measure,” Stanley said. “I see this in a different light. And I do that reflective of what I see in my community right now.”
In the end, Stanley was the only committee member to vote for the bill.
In a statement, the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus said that “With an average of nearly 10 percent unemployment in the 20th Senate District’s localities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Senator Stanley is proposing to potentially drug test a significant percentage of adults in his district, and also to require them to perform unpaid labor.
“Between drug testing and working without pay, it’s unclear how unemployed Virginians are supposed to find time to look for paying jobs.”