Following the devastating news of the closure of International Paper in Franklin, Sen. Creigh Deeds announced a targeted relief package Friday to help the families of the 1,100 workers at the mill.
Deeds, who visited workers on a shift change Thursday night in Franklin, called for targeted increases in unemployment benefits and temporary health benefits for hard hit communities like Franklin. Deeds said Friday he would immediately push for targeted relief legislation upon his election as governor.
Deeds' package would apply to communities where unemployment increases by 2% or more in less than a month. It would increase unemployment benefits to $478 a week, create a temporary health benefits program, an emergency health insurance loan fund and would be funded with $125 million in federal stimulus money.
"This is a reminder that as Virginia works to emerge from the national economic downturn, we must do so by joining together, reaching across party lines, and by being honest about both the problems we face and the solutions we propose," Sen. Deeds said. "That's why we must provide relief now. As Governor, I will take the lead and provide the targeted relief necessary for the families in Franklin to get back on their feet."
Deeds was joined on a conference call Thursday by Sen. Louise Lucas - who represents Franklin and Isle of Wight County. He was also joined by House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong and Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, who fought for similar benefits in 2000 after Tultex's closing in Martinsville.
Deeds' targeted relief package would:
--Increase the maximum weekly unemployment compensation benefit by $100 for displaced workers in localities where unemployment increases by 2% or more in a month. Currently the maximum weekly benefit amount is $378. Creigh will direct the legislature to increase the maximum benefit to $478 for unemployed workers in Isle of Wight County and other high unemployment areas. Laid-off workers in state-certified job training programs will be eligible for the assistance.
--Create a "Temporary Health Benefits Program" to provide health care benefits for displaced workers and their dependents in localities where unemployment increases by 2% or more in a month. The program will provide health benefits equivalent to those provided to residents enrolled in the State Plan for Medical Assistance. These benefits will be available for one-year following the closure of the facility.
--Create an emergency health insurance revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans to unemployed workers, helping them pay for emergency health insurance. These loans will be available to all qualified unemployed workers in Virginia, including workers laid-off from the International Paper plant in Isle of Wight County who choose not to enroll in the Temporary Health Benefits Program. Creigh will also allow loans from the fund to be used by unemployed workers to cover COBRA payments if they remain unemployed for more than nine months.
--Accept $125 million in federal stimulus funds to extend unemployment benefits to thousands of residents across Virginia who work part time or are in approved job training programs. Under this legislation, unemployed workers who enroll in approved job training programs would receive up to 26 additional weeks of benefits if they needed them to complete their coursework.
Additionally, as governor, Creigh will continue to work with the Virginia Employment Commission's Economic Crisis Task Force to provide International Paper workers with job-placement assistance and to help these workers obtain existing benefits and assistance.