CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — Back in mid-June Governor Jim justice cut the extra $300 in federal weekly unemployment benefits early, which affected 15,000 people in the Mountain State.

While many argue it was intended to get people back to work, the data shows a different reality.

Ask most people in Charleston about ending enhanced unemployment benefits, and you may get a reply that sounds like Donnie Skeens’s, “I think the pandemic’s over, people need to go back to work and the jobs are out here in Charleston everywhere, people need to just step up and go back to work,” said Skeens.

The supplemental unemployment benefits from the federal government not only provided an extra $300, but it also qualified many contract workers who otherwise didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

“Kicking all of the people off unemployment, and taking away the $300 benefit, the argument was this was going to encourage them to go out and get these jobs and so far in these two months it hasn’t happened yet,” said policy analyst Sean O’Leary with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The WVCBP compiled data from the U.S. Department of Labor, and it shows people in the state were getting off of unemployment faster while the enhanced benefits were in place.

After the enhanced benefits were taken away, more West Virginians reported to the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey that they were undergoing financial insecurity.

O’Leary says this extra money from the federal government as well as the stimulus checks were helping fill the gaps in the local economy.

“This whole time the idea that no one’s taking these open jobs, the data shows that thousands of people were taking these open jobs every week and it just so happens that everything was opening back at once, and now things have started to settle back down,” he said.

Still, there are those who disagree the benefits helped at all.
“I have seen a lot of negativity with the help that they were given with the money through people going back to substance abuse also,” said Skeens.

Skeens does admit jobs should pay more.

“I think they should boost the minimum wage up and give people the confidence to come back to work and make it worth their time,” he said.

O’Leary says looking at it holistically, the state should hold onto federal assistance as we head into the Fall season and there’s less hiring activity.

“These options definitely should be kept on the table, we’re going to need more support in the economy if we can’t get our cases under control if we can’t get our vaccination levels up,” he said.

The state is currently down 30,000 jobs compared to pre-pandemic times.