Critics: Changes in WV unemployment benefits will harm families amid inflation

Nadia Ramlagan

Critics say a bill passed by West Virginia lawmakers increases the bureaucratic red tape folks who rely on unemployment benefits have to navigate and could financially hurt families already struggling with the high cost of living and ongoing inflation.

Kelly Allen, executive director with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said the bill includes new reporting from employers and job research requirements for recipients, but keeps the maximum number of benefits available at 26 weeks.

“Safety-net kind of programs like this, that help bridge families between jobs and keep them economically secure, is a really important tool,” Allen said.

Senate Bill 841 also limits the amount of money employers pay into the unemployment fund to $9,500 of an employee’s earnings. Supporters of the bill argue the state’s trust fund is in peril and say the measure helps save money. The bill goes into effect on July 1.

Allen pointed out that research shows unemployment insurance helps families stay afloat during economic downturns, and provides continuous income for basic household needs. She added that unemployment insurance has also been linked to reduced rates of child abuse and neglect.

“We know that generous unemployment insurance and robust unemployment insurance benefits mitigate the impact that those economic shocks have on families and the data shows can actually reduce child welfare involvement, ” Allen continued.

According to state data, the state’s unemployment rate was nearly 5% as of the beginning of this year.