Blog Posts > Stand with Workers and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Cuts to Unemployment Insurance
February 22, 2024

Stand with Workers and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Cuts to Unemployment Insurance

Legislators are proposing slashing benefits for unemployment insurance (UI) for laid off workers in West Virginia. These cuts would have a devastating impact on struggling families and would further harm our state’s economy.

HB 5276 would reduce unemployment benefits by nearly 25% by cutting the length of time a laid off worker can access unemployment from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. The bill also slashes the maximum weekly benefit that workers can receive.

The research is clear, withholding economic supports for families leads to bad outcomes for children including increased likelihood that they will become involved in the child welfare system when their parents have trouble paying their bills.

In recent days, we have seen announcements of significant layoffs for businesses like Cleveland Cliffs (formerly Weirton Steel) in Weirton affecting up to 900 workers. These workers are facing significant hardship as their jobs have been eliminated.

Legislators should stand beside these workers and their families – not pull the rug out from under them even further.

The proposed cuts to UI benefits would be a cruel and heartless blow to those who are already struggling. Many families are still reeling from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these cuts would only make matters worse.

In addition, cutting UI benefits would harm our state’s economy. UI benefits help to boost consumer spending, which supports local businesses and jobs. Cutting these benefits would reduce consumer spending and lead to further job losses.

Please reach out to your legislators using our form and urge them to oppose HB 5276 and any other cuts to UI benefits. These benefits are a vital lifeline for struggling families and are essential to our state’s economy.

Learn more about how HB 5276 would needlessly harm West Virginians and our state economy in our recent fact sheet here.

West Virginia Growing More Reliant on Volatile Severance Tax Revenue

West Virginia’s revenue collections are down $378 million compared to this time last year, in large part due to a collapse in severance tax revenue. At this point in FY 2023 West Virginia had collected $631 million in severance tax revenue, while this year the state has only collected $168 million as a result of cooling inflation and low energy prices. While in FY 2023 the severance tax was responsible for about 40 percent of the fiscal year’s surplus, in FY 2024 it is one of the main drivers of the state’s slowing revenue. Notably, this decline in revenue is occurring even before 2023’s income tax cut takes full effect.

The income tax cut package passed during the 2023 legislative session includes triggers for additional income tax cuts, up to 10 percent each year the trigger is met. This could eventually lead to the total elimination of the income tax, which makes up approximately 40 percent of the general revenue fund.

As these ongoing income tax cuts take effect, West Virginia is projected to grow more reliant on the severance tax as a source of revenue, despite its volatility. According to estimates from the State Budget Office, West Virginia’s severance tax revenue is projected to grow from 6.4 percent of the general revenue fund in FY 2024 to over 9 percent by FY 2026, and is expected to stay above 9 percent at least through FY 2029.

States that rely heavily on severance tax revenue experience greater revenue volatility, making it risky to depend on it as a source of consistent, long-term revenue. West Virginia’s severance tax is prone to boom and bust cycles. For example, severance tax revenue grew to $488 million in FY 2014 before collapsing to $276 million just two years later in FY 2016. In comparison, the income tax has been a much more reliable source of revenue, with consistent, steady growth over the past decade.

Energy prices are heavily influenced by global market forces, leaving severance tax revenue dependent on factors beyond the state’s control. If the severance tax declines after its post-pandemic boom, the state will have fewer dollars to address priorities and needs like public employee pay raises, child care affordability, ongoing programs like PEIA and Medicaid, and already enacted legislation like the Hope Scholarship and the Third Grade Success Act. As 2023’s tax changes come into full effect, West Virginia’s risky over-reliance on severance tax revenue should raise serious concerns for the fiscal stability of the state.

Read Sean’s full blog post.

Take Action to Protect SNAP Food Assistance for Children and Families

SB 562 continues to be under consideration by WV lawmakers. This bill would drastically increase bureaucratic red tape in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides critical food assistance for West Virginia families.

SNAP brings millions of federal dollars into our food economy, helping support families and local retailers. SB 562 would kick West Virginia families off SNAP by imposing a confusing and ineffective work requirement on most adults up to sixty years old, including those with children over six years old.

SNAP already has work requirements for adults without children and requires all working-age adults to register for work and accept a job if offered. A recent study from the US Department of Agriculture’s Federal Nutrition Service found that mandatory work requirements have no positive impact on employment or earnings but do drastically reduce SNAP enrollment and decrease family food security.

SB 562 would undermine the great work the state’s SNAP E&T program is already doing through job training partnerships in their voluntary program, because the program does not have the administrative capacity to find employment and training slots for everyone who would be required to have one.

The legislation would also undermine our state’s child care system, diverting limited child care subsidies away from working families with children to those who are subject to the mandatory work training programs outlined in this bill.

Please use this form to contact your legislators and urge them to reject SB 562, which would cut food access for families and undermine our child care system.

Learn more by reading our fact sheet further detailing how policies that restrict SNAP harm families, retailers, and the charitable sector or by checking out this recent article featuring insight from WVCBP executive director, Kelly Allen.

Contact Your Lawmakers and Ask Them to Fully Fund Medicaid

Medicaid is the cornerstone of our state’s healthcare economy, and it provides critical health coverage to children, families, and seniors. Because it is a federal-state partnership, every state dollar we spend pulls down almost $3 in federal funds–meaning that failing to fully fund Medicaid at the state level would have an exponential harmful impact on our ability to provide health care to those who need it. 

Use our form to urge your lawmakers to support HB 5647, which would fully fund the state’s commitment to Medicaid, and tell them to do so with no harmful strings attached.

Urge Your Representatives to Vote No on SB 614 and Keep Students in School

The WV House will soon consider SB 614, a “student discipline” bill that will result in an increased number of K-6 students being removed, suspended, and/or expelled from elementary classrooms. The legislation would allow teachers to remove students from the classroom, bar them from riding the bus home, potentially subject them to law enforcement interactions if their parents are unable to pick them up, and exclude them from school until a risk assessment is completed. If passed, the legislation will disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and poor students and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Please use this form created by our friends at Mountain State Justice to contact your representatives and urge them to reject SB 562.

Read this important commentary from our colleague, Dr. Shanequa Smith, detailing why students need enhanced supports in order to thrive, not increased disciplinary measures.

Eliminating Youth Work Permits Will Increase Risk of Harm to Minors

This week, the WV House passed HB 5159, a bill that seeks to eliminate work permits for children ages 14 and 15. A recent article, including insight from the WVCBP, provides further details. Excerpt below:

The House of Delegates voted 83-16 Tuesday to pass HB 5159, legislation that would eliminate youth work permits. These documents currently require several layers of approval from an employer, a parent or guardian, the youth’s school, and county school officials. 

Instead, if the bill becomes law, the permits would be replaced with an age certificate, a less detailed document that confirms that a minor is at least 14 before they can start working. Minors 16 and older currently use age certificates for employment in West Virginia.

Supporters of the bill argue that eliminating the work permits, in particular the school approval component, is necessary to ensure parents are controlling the process. 

On the floor Tuesday, some lawmakers argued that even with a parent’s permission, the bill removed helpful protections, saying that schools should also have a say in student employment to ensure that minors are not exploited. Others argued that the bill was the wrong approach to addressing the state’s ongoing labor force shortage.

“I know we have a workforce participation issue in West Virginia, and I know that we have issues with employment, but I do not think that opening up the labor force to 14-year-olds in eighth grade is the answer to the problems that we have,” said Del. Elliott Pritt, R-Fayette, a public school teacher. 

Even if the bill is enacted, West Virginia, like every other state, is still required to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a federal labor law that outlines permissible child labor.

But some worry that the loosening of state restrictions could ultimately lead to a challenge of that broader law. Earlier this month the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute argued that the recent proposals targeting state child labor protections are part of “an intentional tactic to generate pressure for subsequently lowering federal standards, reflecting long-standing interests of some industry groups.”

Labor advocates also note that removing work permit requirements and other protections could further expose minors, who are already more likely to face exploitation and low wages, to harmful environments. 

“This bill won’t increase safe youth work, but it will cause more school dropouts & unsafe work conditions,” the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy tweeted shortly after the House approved the legislation. 

Read the full article.

We’re Hiring! 

Just one week left to apply to join the WVCBP as state policy fellow!

The position is a two-year research-focused fellowship dedicated to making change through careful research, thoughtful advocacy, and strong partnerships.

The fellowship is a project of the State Priorities Partnership, a national network coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, one of the nation’s premier policy institutes. As part of this exciting project, you’ll be a member of a cohort of policy fellows working in states across the country. Fellows will receive training and career development, work with mentors, and have access to ongoing opportunities for professional growth.

Applications are due February 29, 2024.

Learn more and apply here.

Share Your Medicaid Experience With Us!

The WVCBP’s Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience (EMEE) Voices Project seeks to collect stories from West Virginians who have struggled to access Medicaid across the state. Being conducted in partnership with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, EMEE Voices will gather insight to inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color.

Do you have a Medicaid experience to share? We’d appreciate your insight. Just fill out the contact form on this webpage and we’ll reach out to you soon. We look forward to learning from you!

You can watch WVCBP’s health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Mariah Plante further break down the project and its goals in this FB Live

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