Lawmakers must avoid quick fixes to jobless fund

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s jobless rate is inching back up, and the gap between the Mountain State and the rest of the country is widening. In January, the jobless rate in West Virginia was 6.3 percent, compared with 4.9 percent for the rest of the country. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show our unemployment rate for all of 2015 was 6.7 percent, while the country as a whole saw 5.5 percent. Only Nevada unemployment rates as high as West Virginia’s in 2015.

Even federal officials now agree the major contributor to our employment woes is the collapse of the coal industry, pushed along rather viciously by President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, in January alone, 1,000 new people joined the unemployment rolls here; 300 of them were in the mining/logging category. (Employment in the mining/logging category declined by 5,900 in 2015).

All those men and women out of work mean money flowing out of the unemployment fund in Charleston. By the end of last week, there was $50.2 million left in the fund, prompting lawmakers to pass a bill that allows borrowing up to $50 million from the state Rainy Day Fund when less than $50 million is in the unemployment fund at any time over a 30-day period.

Surely, passage of such a bill will remind lawmakers of their early-January promises to focus on rooting out unemployment, disability and welfare fraud, and to develop legislation that creates jobs in West Virginia. Tackling both of those problems would go a long way toward alleviating the mounting budget concerns that have consumed the Capitol recently.

Certainly, the fight against federal efforts to cripple the Mountain State must continue. Meanwhile, lawmakers who have just been forced to acknowledge our unemployment fund is running out of money must avoid any misguided quick fixes that would help those efforts along.

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