CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 28,000 workers in West Virginia have filed unemployment claims in the past week because of the coronavirus.
Justice administration General Counsel Brian Abraham said Tuesday more than 16,000 applications were submitted Monday. WorkForce West Virginia was able to process more than 6,000.
Gov. Justice relaxed several filing requirements last week to speed up the process. Justice said Tuesday the moves seemed to be working but the volume of claims is tremendous.
“We’re trying to get all of the red tape and all of the regulations out of the way to try and get funds immediately to our people. I’m really pleased with all of those who are working to get that done,” Justice said.
The state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund had a balance at the end of February of approximately $160 million. It’s enjoyed steady growth in the last few years after dipping to around $70 million in 2015 because of coal mining layoffs.
The trust fund ended 2010 at $76 million coming off the recession. West Virginia, unlike many other states, was able to keep its trust fund solvent. Many states had to borrow money during the recession to cover unemployment.
In 2009, the state legislature passed a bill that raised the base wage rate from $8,000 to $12,000 a year. It froze the benefit rates and provided a one-time cash infusion.
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said lawmakers will have to keep a close eye on the trust fund and the entire economy with the impact of the virus. He’s urging state residents to follow social distancing recommendations and the governor’s stay-at-home order so the state’s economy can take some steps forward.
“While we want to do everything possible to protect lives and ensure the public health, we also have to be aware of the economic consequences of these decisions,” Carmichael said. “We need to get this economy back up and going quickly.”
Carmichael said no society can sustain for very long the kind of economic impact that has hit the U.S. in recent weeks.
“I read recently that during the Great Depression we didn’t see this sort of decline this quickly and this precipitously,” Carmichael said. “I think you’re going to see the reports become staggering about the economic impact of this.”
One of the first indications of how deep the impact has been could come in the state revenue collections that will be reported at the beginning of next month. Collections were ahead of estimates a modest $1.6 million in February.
Gov. Justice said on March 2 that he was pleased with the numbers because it marked a third straight month of collections being ahead of estimates.
““This is great, great news for our state, and we are very encouraged. It surely looks like now that our decision to refrain from making budget cuts was the right move,” Justice said.
But that was before Covid-19 entered the Mountain State.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would like to have the country “opened up” by Easter. Justice said he liked Trump’s optimism but the governor didn’t sound totally convinced.
“Everything going back to a normal status and people going back to work and everything is ambitious,” Justice said. “But at the same time I would celebrate in every way, shape, form and fashion if we could do that.”
Carmichael said state leaders will be guided by the advice of health care officials but “that also has to be balanced against the economic impact as well.”