WV Senate

Members of the West Virginia Senate meet on Jan. 23, 2023, during the special session.

The West Virginia Senate voted Monday to pass a bill that would make changes to the state’s unemployment benefits system, sending it to the House floor.

Senate Bill 59 would lower the maximum duration a person could receive unemployment benefits depending on the state’s overall unemployment rate.

Currently, workers who file for unemployment in the state can receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. 

The bill would limit these benefits anywhere from 12 weeks, if the state’s unemployment rate is below 5.5%, and 20 weeks if the rate is 9% or higher. An additional week of eligibility is added for each half-point increase in unemployment.

If passed, West Virginia would join 10 other states that limit eligibility below 26 weeks.

The bill would also add work-search requirements for unemployment eligibility in the state.

People seeking benefits would need to complete and show proof of at least four separate work-search activities, such as registering on the state’s labor exchange system, completing job applications, applying or participating in employment and training services and completing job interviews. 

Right now, the state requires a person to file with a job service office or one-stop center by the sixth week of unemployment benefits, according to WorkForce West Virginia.

The bill would also allow the state to conduct full eligibility reviews in the case of “suspicious or potentially improper claims.”

During the debate on passage, Sen. Mike Caputo spoke out against the bill, arguing that West Virginians would need a longer duration for eligibility.

“Sometimes 26 weeks is not enough, but I do know this. I know 12 weeks is not enough,” he said.

Sen. Jack Woodrum, under questioning from Sen. Charles Clements, said that the Legislature could always come back and change the length of unemployment benefits if there is a recession. 

The bill passed 27-5 with two Democratic senators and three Republican senators voting against it. 

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for further consideration.