CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On Tuesday, members of West Virginia’s Democratic House Caucus sent a letter to Gov. Jim Justice calling on him “to stop glossing over issues with unemployment claims.”
“The Governor has thus far refused to take any responsibility for the failure of his administration to properly prepare for and execute a plan to deal with West Virginia’s unprecedented unemployment claims,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D–Ohio. “Instead, his Chief Counsel blames West Virginians for ‘getting confused’ while filling out their claims. This is irresponsible and the opposite of good leadership in a time of crisis.”
On Tuesday, May 5, Justice’s general counsel, Brian Abraham, detailed issues WorkForce employees have encountered due to mistakes claimants make when filling out unemployment applications. Justice followed up on Abraham’s comments by saying that mistakes were understandable. Both of the comments can be seen below:
The next day, Justice again addressed the situation, saying that 15% of applications required “special handling.” His comments from May 6 are below:
With more than 164,000 unemployment claims having been processed in West Virginia since March 16, it is clear that the employees are doing the best they can under these difficult circumstances, the group of Democrats said.
During his virtual news briefing Tuesday, Justice said WorkForce WV had gotten payments out to 16,000 residents on Monday, including $18 million to independent contractors. More than 28,000 calls have come into WorkForce WV since May 1, Justice said.
“I have been sending my constituent concerns to Commissioner Scott Adkins for weeks,” said Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D–Marshall. “He’s been very helpful and many of my constituents appreciate having someone reach out to them and talk to them specifically about their claims.”
The issue that some members of the Democratic House Caucus see is that, in an effort to keep West Virginians calm about their current situations, Justice is instead making their stress worse by saying all the claims have been processed and the phones are being answered, according to a news release from the group.
“We appreciate the hard work of the staff at Workforce, but it is unacceptable for the Governor to say things are fine with the process when they aren’t,” said Delegate Doug Skaff, Jr., D–Kanawha. “A lot of these people have never had to apply for unemployment before and they’re already embarrassed to need the help. To have the Governor and his Chief Counsel imply that they’re the problem with the process is unkind and not helpful.”
Over two days last week, members of the Democratic House Caucus gathered the names and contact information for more than 100 West Virginians who are having issues getting their employment and sent the information directly to Major General James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, Acting Commissioner Scott Adkins of Workforce WV, and Department of Commerce spokesman Andy Malinoski, they said.
They encourage residents who need help to contact their delegate if they are having problems being approved for unemployment benefits.
The letter, signed by Delegates Mick Bates, Sammi Brown, Shawn Fluharty, Sean Hornbuckle, Doug Skaff, Jr., Margaret Staggers, Cody Thompson, Danielle Walker and Lisa Zukoff, makes use of the “in any shape, form, or fashion” catchphrase Justice became know for using during his initial COVID-19 briefings.