The West Virginia State Senate on January 23 passed a bill 27-5 that would index the length of unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. During times when the unemployment rate is below 5.5%, unemployed workers could collect a maximum of 12 weeks of benefits. For each 0.5% increase in the unemployment rate, the maximum benefit duration would increase by one week under the bill, with a maximum benefit length of 20 weeks during times of high unemployment.
West Virginia’s current maximum benefit length is 26 weeks. The state’s unemployment rate was 4.1% in November and December, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, meaning the maximum weekly benefit would fall by 14 weeks (to a maximum of 12 weeks) if the bill passes and the unemployment rate remains stable.
The bill would also require WorkForce West Virginia—the agency in charge of administering the unemployment insurance program in the state—to verify the identities of applicants and take additional steps to review what the legislation describes as suspicious claims.
Claimants would also have to complete at least four qualifying work search activities per week (such as interviewing or applying for a job). Under current law, claimants are eligible for benefits if they are “doing that which a reasonably prudent person in his or her circumstances would do in seeking work,” with no specific requirements.
The bill now heads to the West Virginia House of Delegates for consideration.
Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.
The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.