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Candidate Once Drew Jobless Pay

September 25, 2002

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ The state is demanding that a Republican congressional candidate return unemployment benefits he collected for months while drawing a legislative salary.

State Sen. Joe Zarelli, a seven-year veteran of the Legislature and vice chairman of the Senate Republican caucus, was paid $32,801 in the past year as a part-time legislator.

He said he told state officials about his legislative job when he filed for unemployment after losing his full-time job as regional manager for a security consulting business in August 2001.

``I had a right to file. I filed,″ Zarelli said. ``The Department of Employment Security said I qualified, and paid the checks and then later went the other direction and now I have to deal with that.″

Zarelli, who is challenging two-term Democratic Rep. Brian Baird, wouldn’t say how much he collected in unemployment benefits or how much he plans to pay back.

He did say he received benefits for 10 months. The average unemployment check in Washington is $318 a week; at that rate, the 10-month total would be approximately $12,700.

In addition to his legislative salary, Zarelli receives $82 a day for expenses when the Legislature is in session or for committee work, plus office and telephone allowances, health care coverage and pension contributions.

Zarelli said he hopes voters will understand the pain of being thrown out of work and trying to pay family bills. A legislator’s pay is inadequate to support a family, said Zarelli, who lives with his wife and four daughters in Ridgefield, north of Vancouver.

Baird said Zarelli’s decision to file for unemployment while pulling down legislative pay was ``preposterous.″

``I think it sets a bad example for someone in government, in elective office, to be manipulating the system as he apparently has,″ Baird said in an interview from Washington.

State officials would not say how much Zarelli received or even confirm he was a recipient. But he confirmed reports obtained by The Associated Press that he received unemployment checks and now has been ordered to repay the money.

Tammy Fellin, legislative liaison for the department, wouldn’t talk about Zarelli directly but said it’s possible to collect unemployment while still holding a part-time job. Most earnings from a part-time job are deducted from the jobless pay and the person has to attest that he or she is ``able and available and actively seeking full-time employment,″ she said.

Zarelli said he is now running a startup business he co-owns, Professional Security Concepts, and is making ends meet, ``month-to-month,″ even while spending much of his time campaigning.

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On the Net:

Zarelli: http://www.joezarelli.com

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