W.Va. Senate seeks change to unemployment benefits

W.Va. Senate seeks change to unemployment benefits
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:07 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Twenty-Six weeks of unemployment could soon be a thing of the past in West Virginia.

The state Senate is advancing a proposal to adjust the number of weeks based on the state’s unemployment rate -- up to 20 weeks if unemployment hits or exceeds 9% and just 12 weeks if the rate dips below 5.5%.

December’s unemployment rate stood at 4.1%

Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley, is among the legislation’s sponsors.

“If there are opportunities out there, then we just need to make sure that the folks who receive unemployment benefits are actively seeking those job opportunities,” he said.

The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy opposes the legislation. Its director, Kelly Allen, saying it assumes a one-size-fits-all approach that will hurt those living in smaller counties.

“It depends upon where they live, right,” she said. “The statewide unemployment rate does not paint the picture of a lot of counties that have few jobs available.”

Mike Caputo, D-Marion, is one of three Democrats in the state Senate. He worries about the impact on workers, especially seasonal construction workers. He recalls being laid off three to four times in 20 years of coal mining.

“Not everybody’s a slug, and not everybody lays home, and doesn’t want to work, and takes advantage of the system,” Caputo said.

“I don’t think anybody’s making the accusation that people are slugs or lazy, but I do think we have an obligation to taxpayers and to the state of West Virginia,” Barrett said.

The legislation, Senate Bill 59, would also require tangible proof that the person receiving unemployment is searching for work while collecting benefits.

“Look, if you’re unemployed and you’re actively searching for work, there should be a benefit for you, but at the same time, you have to do your part and actively search for opportunity,” Barrett said.

According to Barrett, the job search requirements and the sliding scale does just that -- incentivize people to re-enter the workforce.

Another way -- allowing those on unemployment to keep their full benefits -- while working a part-time job that pays less money.

“I think that’s the compassionate element of this bill,” Barrett said. “Maybe that part-time job turns into full-time. So we don’t want to discourage that, because I wouldn’t expect someone on unemployment, who is collecting a full benefit, to take a 10-, 15- or 20-hour a week job and lose money.”

The proposal moved forward without amendment Friday, teeing it up for Senate passage Monday morning. If passed, it would then go to the House of Delegates.