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State to implement Trump’s unemployment order

CHARLESTON — State officials said Monday they supported President Donald Trump’s executive order extending coronavirus unemployment supplements and would be willing to foot part of the bill in the short term.

Gov. Jim Justice and Scott Adkins, acting director of WorkForce West Virginia, said the state would participate by paying 25 percent of the cost for the reduced Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation even if the executive order ends up in federal court.

Trump signed four executive orders after talks between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders broke down over a fourth COVID-19 aid package. One of those executive orders uses $44 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency monies to replace the $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provided by the C.A.R.E.S. Act.

“I commend President Trump because we have got to get some money flowing to our people who are out there and sitting there wondering how in the world they’re going to pay the rent,” Justice said.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, residents already receiving unemployment will not have to do anything additional and that the $400 per week benefit would be backdated to the beginning of August. Adkins said they’re used to working with the Department of Labor when it comes to additional unemployment benefits, but they were prepared.

“It’s set up a lot different than we at WorkForce have historically done through the U.S. Department of Labor,” Adkins said. “We’re still working with our partners, including FEMA and the U.S. Department of Labor to figure out how that is going to work.”

The $600 benefit expired at the end of July for 30 million Americans on unemployment due to businesses closing due to the economic effect of closing non-essential businesses during the pandemic. Trump’s executive order lowers the weekly benefit from $600 to $400 and requires states to pay $100 of that amount.

“To be perfectly honest from West Virginia’s standpoint, I believe that the federal government will reverse their stance on that and that they will pay 100 percent of that,” Justice said. “From our standpoint, I would tell you hands-down-period that we’re going to pay it.”

Justice said the state would need to pony up $26 million per week to pay for its part of Trump’s executive order. For now, that will come from $687 million of the $1.25 billion in federal C.A.R.E.S. Act dollars sent to the state for coronavirus-related expenses. The money was set aside for WorkForce West Virginia in case of additional unemployment expenses related to the pandemic.

“That’s why we did it and God knows I’m glad we did it,” Justice said. “We’ll be paying it and we’ll very willingly pay it. We hope they will reverse and we hope Congress will stop being a bunch of political babies and they’ll come up with a fourth stimulus plan.”

Both the Democratic U.S. House of Representatives and the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate have introduced competing plans for a fourth COVID-19 aid package. House Democrats want to see the $600 per week benefit extended, while Senate Republicans and the White House prefer a reduced benefit to either $200 per week or 70 percent of the recipient’s lost wages.

“Whether it be the Republicans on the Senate side or the Pelosis and Schumers of the world, someway somehow, everybody’s got to get together, because you have people who are sitting out there right now wondering how they’re going to make the car payment or what they’re going to do. They’re there because of a mandated shutdown in order to save us from all dying from this thing.”

A timetable for when the $400 per week benefits could start was unclear. It’s also possible that a lawsuit could be filed to block Trump’s executive orders on the basis of violating Congress’ power of the purse and appropriations. Justice said the state would continue to pay its part even if Trump’s executive order is temporarily stayed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, West Virginia saw a decrease in the number of initial unemployment claims at the end of July, from 3,123 claims filed the week ending July 25 to 2,333 the week ending Aug. 1. As of the week ending July 18, 4,435 unemployed West Virginians were receiving the $600 per week benefit.

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