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Justice considering eliminating $300 extra unemployment benefit early

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he’s considering eliminating the $300 weekly additional unemployment benefit that thousands of state residents receive before its September expiration date.

Governor Jim Justice

Justice said he’s heard from employers that can’t fill jobs. He said some people still need the benefits but there are some that don’t.

“We got plenty of folks that are hurting and not speaking of those folks in any way but you’ve got a lot, a lot, a lot of other folks that are scamming the whole system,” Justice said. “Our businesses are pleading with our people. We’ve got to have you back to work.”

Governors in more and more states have taken the step to eliminate the additional benefits. Iowa and Tennessee announced decisions to do so Tuesday. There are nine other states that made the move earlier.

Justice, who was short on specifics Wednesday. said his move would be two-pronged.

“Not only are we looking at moving forward to shorten that time period and go all of the way out to the end but we’re also looking at another tradeoff that could really help incentivize those folks to get back on the job. We need them back to work,” Justice said.

But West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Senior Policy Analyst Sean O’Leary said the trouble with employers filling jobs is more about transitioning out of a pandemic than it is people deciding not to work because they get $300 extra on top of their weekly unemployment benefits.

“It takes some time to adjust and of course there’s going to be some issues and the labor market is going to take maybe a month, two months to adjust to that and get back to normal. We’ve not had a global pandemic like this before,” O’Leary told MetroNews.

Sean O’Leary

O’Leary said it’s not that there are more jobs but the openings have come back very quickly and the workforce, for various reasons, has had trouble keeping pace.

O’Leary said the $300 extra benefit is helping ease the transition. He said eliminating it could slow the economic recovery.

“We still have in West Virginia and nationwide more unemployed workers than job openings and if you cut that off you’re cutting off that income because there’s not jobs for them. We hear that there are but the data is telling they’re not there. If you cut that off then their spending is going to go down,” O’Leary said.

He said the additional benefits have helped West Virginia’s economy.

Total unemployment in West Virginia just under 43,000 residents, a number that’s been falling in recent months, O’Leary said.

“Right now we’re seeing an economy on the verge of taking off,” he said.

Justice seemed to indicate Wednesday that his patience was about ready to run out.

“This nation was built on people’s work. I’m a real believer that work brings real gratification and honor and everything else. We’ve got to get our people back to work,” Justice said.

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