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State Senator: WV Can Bolster Unemployment Fund Without Borrowing

September 23, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia's unemployment compensation fund is projected to run out of money around late February. State Sen. Jeff Kessler of Marshall County says it might take $25 million to $40 million to tide the fund over until employment picks up. He believes the state should be able to find that without drawing on emergency funds or borrowing from the feds, noting borrowing would trigger significant added costs for each job.

"West Virginia is one of the few states that has not had to borrow money off the federal government, and I think it puts us at a competitive advantage trying to attract new businesses or retain existing businesses in the state."

He favors a smaller temporary increase in employer contributions and drawing $22 million from the federal government to help modernize the state's unemployment system.

One part of modernizing the unemployment system is the inclusion of some part-time workers. With more people forced to work one or more part-time jobs instead of working full time, Kessler believes that move makes sense. He adds the long-term cost depends a lot on how many hours a week someone has to work to qualify if they lose their jobs.

"Don't think everybody who works eight hours we need to put on unemployment, but 30, 32, it might be something where we could look at the hours in order to categorize them as eligible part-time employees."

The state Chamber of Commerce says that change would create long-term costs that will linger long after the federal money is spent.

Another part of that modernization would open the unemployment system to people in a serious domestic crisis. Advocates says victims of domestic violence will sometimes have to quit work to get away from abuse. According to Kessler, letting them collect unemployment is a simple matter of fairness, and not very expensive.

"There may be a handful of 50 or 100 people, maybe, in the state that would truly be eligible for that. And for those folks who are afraid to go to work because of those reasons, absolutely I think they should be eligible."

The state legislature is considering the issue during interim meetings now underway.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV