Much of the conversation on record job losses in West Virginia over the past five weeks has centered on our state’s unemployment insurance system, and with good reason. According to Governor Justice and WorkForce WV, at least 130,000 residents have filed initial unemployment claims since school closures and stay-at-home orders began, and that figure does not include the self-employed, gig workers, or independent contractors who’ve seen their incomes plummet. Another serious implication of job loss that has seen less focus is loss of health coverage. Since most workers in the United States get their health insurance through their employers, losing one’s job also means losing health benefits – often for the whole family.
Read more in Sean and Kelly’s blog post.
Although Congress allocated $1.25 billion in state fiscal aid for West Virginia in the CARES Act that passed last month, it’s highly likely this will not be enough money to shore up state and local government budgets from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, the U.S. Treasury issued guidance on April 22 indicating state and local governments will not be allowed to “replace revenues” or close budget gaps with their allocated funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. This means state lawmakers in West Virginia will likely need to explore other revenue options to ward off massive layoffs, cuts to services, and a deeper economic recession.
Read more in Ted’s blog post.
Congress must take specific action to help coalfield communities rebound from the economic challenges that existed before COVID-19 and that continue to worsen amidst the pandemic. At the same time, actions to stimulate the economy must have the support of communities directly impacted by abandoned mine sites, including when and whether to start working in the face of COVID-19.
Fortunately, there are policies that would accomplish these goals. They include reauthorizing the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund well beyond fall 2021, when it’s currently set to expire, and passing the RECLAIM Act, which would appropriate current AML funds for good-paying jobs in environmental reclamation. Combined, these policies will set the stage for a longer-term path to economic diversification throughout West Virginia’s coalfield communities.
Read more in Seth’s blog post.
With tens of thousands of West Virginians losing their jobs and filing for unemployment insurance benefits as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the economy, there is renewed interest in “work sharing” programs.
Work sharing gives businesses the option of reducing the hours and wages of their employees instead of laying them off. Workers with reduced wages and hours are then eligible for partial unemployment benefits to help make up the lost wages.
While work sharing benefits do not fully replace lost income, the employee’s take home pay is much higher with work sharing than it is with unemployment insurance. For example, consider a worker who typically earns $800/week. Laid off, his weekly earnings fall to $400 per week, the amount he would be eligible to collect in unemployment benefits. Under work sharing, working four days per week and collecting one-fifth of full unemployment benefits, his weekly income is $720, 80% higher than if he had been laid off.
Read more in Sean’s blog post.
Read more from Sean in this Ohio Valley Resource article describing the current unemployment numbers in our region.
With West Virginia schools now officially closed for the rest of the school year, this week the Food for All Coalition called on Governor Justice to streamline feeding programs across the state to make them more effective and efficient.
WVCBP Outreach Policy Director Seth DiStefano was quoted in this WV Metro News report saying, “Concrete, readily accessible and regularly updated information on local feeding resources are needed, along with coordination of resources with the Office of Childhood Nutrition, local volunteers, food pantries and community organizations. To be sure, there are some good things, there are some positives, but there is also some room for improvement as far as coordination and communication on the county level to make sure all of West Virginia’s children are served.”
The coalition called on the governor to follow the existing models of Cabell, Calhoun, and McDowell Counties.
Earlier this month, the coalition sent this letter to Governor Justice.
If you have been impacted by incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d like to hear from you. Please consider filling out this survey to help our Criminal Justice Reform coalition better understand what’s happening in our state’s prisons and jails and to advocate for reductions in our state’s jail population.
For a complete list of our COVID-19 resources, please visit our special website page.
West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy seeks an energetic and dedicated Executive Director to advance the Center’s mission to use research and policy analysis, strategic communications, and leadership and outreach to improve the well-being of all West Virginians. Founded in 2007, the Center has a reputation for producing creditable, timely, relevant, and accessible policy analysis on important state and federal issues such as criminal justice reform, fair tax and budget policy, affordable health care, labor policy, and other social and economic policy issues. Candidates should have a deep understanding of public policy and strong leadership skills to continue Center’s growth and development. Ted Boettner, the WVCBP’s founding Executive Director, plans to step down this summer.
Registration is open for this year’s Summer Policy Institute! Join us for policy discussion and networking!
Note: Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, this year’s SPI will be completely virtual. Registration is still required. We will keep you posted as plans become formalized.