CHARLESTON, WV – West Virginia lawmakers are considering bills that could drastically change unemployment benefits in the state.

Supporters of the idea, say they’re just trying to get more people back to work. A lot of the unemployment concerns stem from the impact of COVID-19. Some businesses were hit hard in the early days of the pandemic, especially in the hospitality industry.

Many restaurant workers who lost jobs did not come back to work as unemployment benefits went on for months. But now, Republicans in the legislature are trying to fix that, though advocates for the unemployed say the effort is misguided.

One proposal is that if unemployment is high at, say 9%, then people would need at least 26 weeks of paid benefits. But if unemployment is low, say at 4%, the weeks of benefits might be reduced to just 12, to urge people back to work.

“The average time, especially in West Virginia, is only about 11 weeks. And so the longer somebody stays on unemployment, sometimes it discourages them to continue working, or looking for work. And so what they’ve seen in other states is it got people back into the workforce earlier,”

State Sen. Tom Takubo, (R) Kanawha – Majority Leader.

“There is this disconnect between the solution we are going after and the problem we are trying to solve. If we want to solve this problem with job openings we need to address the root causes. And we know this: child care, skills and transportation,”

Sean O’Leary, with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Two bills dealing with these proposed unemployment reforms advanced in the State Senate on Thursday.

There will be no legislative session Friday because of the weather, so we’ll have to wait until next week for the final votes. Critics say with unemployment at a historic low of 3.7% in West Virginia, these measures are not needed to fix anything.