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W.Va. approved for federal enhanced unemployment benefit, but questions arise over how far that goes

West Virginia leaders announced the state has been approved for a $68,269,946 FEMA grant to provide $300 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits. The state has pledged an additional $100 a week.

But there were already questions about just how far that money would stretch.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., discussed the grant during an appearance today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

She said payments would account for August 1 to August 21.

“So if you’re on unemployment, you’re getting your enhanced unemployment; you will get that in a back check,” Capito said, saying that would be a lump sum of $1,200 for the three-week period.

“Then moving forward they’ll refill the pot as long as that disaster fund has the funds to sustain it.”

Capito noted that she serves in an appropriations oversight role for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, describing the need to watch the money carefully so that there’s enough to fund disaster relief.

“So I watch that disaster fund very carefully,” Capito said. “There are billions and billions of dollars in there, so we aren’t going to let it go below so that we can’t handle a hurricane or something like that, so we’re watching it very carefully.”

An earlier enhanced unemployment benefit passed by Congress, part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, paid $600 a week. But that has lapsed.

With Congress so far unable to reach a new deal, President Trump announced an executive action at the start of this month that restarted the enhanced unemployment benefit but at the lower monetary level.

Under Trump’s order, the federal government puts in $300 a week per recipient with states kicking in an additional $100.

West Virginia has been among few states to say it would be able to put up that amount.

Gov. Jim Justice announced West Virginia’s approval of the federal money during a coronavirus response briefing today.

“This is only $300 of the $400. I really, really, really proudly say West Virginia is one of the only states in the country — there’s a handful and it’s growing a little bit — but West Virginia stepped up and said ‘No, we’re not just going to send $300 when the $300 comes; we’re going to send the $400,'” the governor said today.

“So that’ll be going out, and we’ll be getting those West Virginians the money as quickly as we possibly can.”

Sean O’Leary

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a think tank, questioned how far the available federal money would stretch.

“Not only is the Lost Wages Supplement providing smaller benefits to workers, the $68 million grant West Virginia has received is only enough to provide benefits for three to four weeks at best,” stated Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst.

Moreover, he said, “the $400/week Lost Wages Supplement is an inadequate replacement for the $600 in emergency unemployment benefits that more than 60,000 West Virginians were receiving until the program expired last month.”

Joe Manchin

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he hopes the money will help West Virginians who are suffering economically during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This pandemic has had devastating impacts on West Virginia families. I’m hopeful that this funding will make it to the people that are struggling to make ends meet through no fault of their own,” Manchin stated.

But the senator also noted that the funding comes from federal disaster relief. He expressed concern about the pace of disaster relief in West Virginia in recent years and hoped a track record like the continued response to flooding in 2016 wouldn’t signal a frustrating experience with the unemployment money.

“Given their past performance, I am concerned FEMA is entirely unprepared to effectively execute this entirely new relief program with the speed and efficiency that our struggling families need and deserve,” Manchin stated.

“And West Virginians simply can’t wait four years for FEMA to figure out how to distribute unemployment assistance they need today.”


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