Rep. Joe Heck's wife, who worked for her husband but lost her job after he was elected to Congress, collected unemployment in Nevada for a time last year, according to a disclosure that set off a flurry of politics on Friday.
Democrats pounced on the story first reported by Politico, charging Lisa Heck essentially should not have applied for benefits under the circumstances. Heck said his wife was no different from others who lost their job and qualified for payments.
Lisa Heck was a nurse who worked for Specialized Medical Operations, a medical training and consulting firm where her husband served as president.
But Heck dissolved the company after being elected to the U.S. House in 2010 after concluding it presented a conflict because most of its business came through government contracts. Five people lost their jobs.
Heck, who generally has supported extending federal jobless benefits, said through an office statement his wife was no different from many Americans who have lost their jobs.
"After losing her job, Lisa Heck applied for and began receiving unemployment while she searched for work," Heck's office said. "As a mother, the wife of an active Army Reservist, and a congressional spouse, Mrs. Heck felt that it was in the best interest of the family to end her job search and remain at home. At that time, she stopped receiving unemployment."
A Heck spokesman said the congressman was going to say no more. It was not possible to find out how long Lisa Heck looked for a job before deciding to stop looking and forfeit further benefits.
Democrats argued essentially that Lisa Heck should not have collected benefits because she was laid off by her own husband after he received a healthy raise to $174,000 and medical benefits when elected.
In the year before entering Congress, Heck, who was an emergency room physician, reported a combined salary of $101,132 from his company and from the Emergency Medical Physicians Group, based in Roseville, Calif.
"Thousands of Nevadans are struggling to make ends meet, and Congressman Joe Heck is supplementing his $174,000 a year congressional salary and taxpayer funded health care with unemployment benefits for his wife," Amber Moon, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said.
The charge was echoed by the Democratic Party in Nevada and by the campaign of John Oceguera, the Democrat running against Heck to represent the 3rd Congressional District in the next Congress.
The latest financial statement Heck filed with Congress in May indicates he is not a wealthy lawmaker. He reported assets of between $228,000 and $645,000 mostly in mutual fund investments and individual retirement accounts.
At the same time, he reported debts of at least $315,000. Heck still is paying off student loans from his medical education, according to the latest disclosure. It also reported he refinanced his home in Henderson last November and owes at least $250,000 on the new mortgage.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.