West Virginia lawmakers consider bills to reduce unemployment insurance benefits

West Virginia lawmakers on February 19, 2024, introduced two bills related to unemployment insurance, proposing to index the length of unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate and reduce the maximum benefit amount in relation to the state’s average weekly wage.

Senate Bill 840 would reduce the maximum number of benefit weeks to 12 weeks when the unemployment rate is below 5.5 percent. The bill would cap the maximum benefit length at 20 weeks when the unemployment rate is 9.0 percent or above. Unemployment insurance benefits currently last for up to 26 weeks in West Virginia, and the unemployment rate is 4.3%, meaning the maximum length of benefits would fall from 26 to 12 weeks if the bill becomes law.

Senate Bill 841 would reduce the maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefit from 66.3% to 55% of the state’s average weekly wage, not to exceed $550.

Similar bills were introduced in 2022 and 2023. Both passed the state Senate but never advanced out of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

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.