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Griffith to mull benefit extension

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith is prepared to consider voting to extend unemployment benefits for the short term, although he feels the focus should instead be on job growth.

According to Associated Press (AP) reports, the Senate on Monday considered legislation to renew lapsed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. If the bill passes the Senate, it will move on to the Republican-controlled House.

The AP reported that the White House-backed bill would offer a three-month extension to jobless benefits. It would restore between 14 and 47 weeks of benefits to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless workers who were affected when a previous extension expired Dec. 28.

During a visit to Martinsville on Monday, Griffith, R-Salem, said he is willing to consider a short-term extension of benefits because so many people in the 9th District suffer from chronic long-term unemployment — a situation he said is caused by an overabundance of regulations and restrictions passed down by the federal government.

Although his office has not yet made a formal announcement, Griffith said he anticipates that he will run for re-election in November.

“I’ve got so many people in so many parts of my district who, because of things that I think are bad policies in Washington, we have to take what I call a shortcut through the woods,” he said. “It may not be the right path, but if it gets us back closer to the right path, I’d have to look at it.”

The dilemma, he said, is that an extension of unemployment benefits could make business difficult for employers.

“On the other side of the coin,” he said, “we have a lot of people who have been unemployed for a long time because of economic circumstances. It’s a balance, as so many bills are.”

Instead of an extension of benefits, Griffith said he would prefer to see policies that help kick-start the economy rather than stifle it.

“I think it’s far better that we get the economy going,” he said. “I think a lot of the policies coming out of Washington, whether they be regulations or otherwise, have not been helpful. I think these regulations make it hard for businesses to expand or move forward. They’re producing so many new regulations that it’s hard for businesses to catch their breath.”

As an example, Griffith cited the ongoing dispute over Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. Henry County and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. have worked for months to secure a grading permit for the site from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in hopes of attracting an end-user, yet the corps has denied the permit because an end-user has not been specified.

Griffith, along with U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, D-Va., and 5th District Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, introduced a bill in August addressing the permit problem.

The bill, called the Commonsense Permitting for Job Creation Act, specifies that the lack of a committed end-user company shall not be a reason to deny a corps permit that meets all other legal requirements, according to a previous Bulletin report.

Griffith said he plans to ask the corps for an update on the project’s status when he returns to Washington, “mostly to continue to let the Army Corps of Engineers know that the legislators in Washington are watching. … It’s one of those things that may bubble along for weeks or months before it gets any action, but we’re hopeful that we’ll clear up part of that problem.”

According to AP reports, there has been discussion of the Democrats introducing a bill in the Senate and House to raise the national minimum wage. Griffith said he would hesitate to vote in favor of such a bill.

“I normally think that hurts the economy,” he said. “I always try to see the bill that we’re talking about before I make a blanket statement, but that’s my normal instinct.”

The crux of the issue is similar to the dilemma over extending unemployment benefits, Griffith said: improved job creation legislation would render the issue moot.

Griffith said that a higher minimum wage makes it difficult for businesses to succeed.

“It might help in an area where there’s growth,” he said, “but where there’s growth, you don’t need a minimum wage. … The money will chase the good workers if you have a vibrant economy.”

Griffith said that he tries to visit different areas of the 9th District whenever he is able, and part of his reason for visiting Martinsville and Henry County on Monday was to visit area businesses and distribute a 2014 congressional issues survey.

“Even though I may live in Salem and work in Washington, D.C., that doesn’t mean that I’m a stranger to the Martinsville area,” he said. He encouraged 9th District residents to contact his office with any thoughts or questions.


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