Caputo opposes unemployment system changes, lawmaker attitudes toward workers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The state Senate has passed Senate Bill 59, a bill that reduces the number of weeks allowed for unemployment compensation and changes job search criteria. On WAJR’s “Talk of the Town,” Senator Mike Caputo (D-Marion-13) expressed disappointment and characterized the legislation as an attack on workers.

“To reduce the benefits from 26 weeks to a minimum of 12 and only a maximum of 20 is just a bad direction to go,” Caputo said.

SB 59 sets the maximum length of benefits at 12 weeks if the state unemployment rate for the previous quarter is below 5.5 percent. For each half-percent increase in the unemployment rate above 5.5 percent, an extra week is added until the rate reaches 9%. At this point, benefits end after 20 weeks. The bill also requires four work searches and asks for proof.

As a former coal miner, Caputo said when he was on unemployment benefits he wanted a job with equal wages so he could continue supporting his family. That search can last beyond the first offer, and lawmakers should support those efforts by not reducing the period of compensation.

“That argument to me is just weak and inaccurate, and I feel sorry for workers that are struggling,” Caputo said. “Unemployment is not where we want to be; it’s not the money we made when we were working.”

Caputo noted that lawmakers could always revisit the issue and make the term longer, but he fears many workers would suffer before the issue was brought to the legislature.

“Six months has always been the standard, but for some reason the leadership of the supermajority here wants to reduce that,” Caputo said.

Caputo said he supports any and all efforts to investigate fraud and prosecute bad actors, but he believes those claims are overblown. According to Caputo, lawmakers don’t appear to give workers the benefit of the doubt and are quick to make being unemployed more difficult.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me why there is this “beat-down” attitude toward West Virginia workers,” Caputo said. “I don’t know anybody, and I always challenge them and ask them to name me ten people that are gaming the system, and they look at me and insist they’re out there, so I ask them to name them.”

Caputo backs all the incentives provided in recent months to attract new industry to the state and believes as they develop more opportunities for workers, they will as well. Above all, Caputo said the workers need support, not more rules making it cumbersome to support families.

“We’re proud West Virginians, and we want to go to work and provide for our families,” Caputo said. “That’s the self-incentive that’s there, in my opinion—just find me a job, and I’ll take it.”