Labor Commissioner candidate Robbin Ship received the endorsement of Gen. David Poythress Tuesday, a former Labor Commissioner and Secretary of State.

Georgia Democrats target benefits cut in race for labor commissioner

Former Labor Commissioner David Poythress endorsed fellow Democrat Robbin Shipp for state jobs chief Tuesday, providing fodder for her bid to unseat Republican opponent Mark Butler.

“The job of the labor commissioner is to say yes. It’s about helping people,” said Poythress, who also served as Georgia’s secretary of state and launched an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010. “Unfortunately, the incumbent has said no. His career has been saying no — no to increasing minimum wage, no to increasing benefits.”

That statement added another line of attack for Shipp, who has criticized Butler for the state’s 7.9 percent unemployment rate in September, the highest rate in the nation, and for opposing a minimum-wage increase.

Her newest salvo references a legislative decision pushed by Butler in 2012 that reduced unemployment checks from 26 weeks to between 14 and 20 weeks. More than 190,000 Georgians were estimated to have been affected, losing between $260 and $1,820 in benefits at the time.

“That decision was made when Georgians were still struggling through one of the worst recessions we’ve seen since the Great Depression,” said Shipp, who says she would advocate to reverse the cuts. “There’s a large cache of individuals who are now considered chronically unemployed.”

Butler has said he decreased benefits to help pay off a $761 million federal loan that was used to shore up a deficit in the state’s unemployment trust fund, which had run dry thanks to tax holidays granted to businesses during the economy’s sunnier days.

By shortening benefits for those without jobs, the state was able to pay off the loan in four years, ahead of the estimated six- to eight-year forecast.

“That’s money those businesses can now spend on capital improvements and hiring employees,” Butler said in September.

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