House passes limits on unemployment compensation

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House on Thursday passed a contentious measure that could limit the benefits that Missouri’s unemployed could collect.

HB 288, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, would restrict the number of weeks that unemployment could be drawn to one of the shortest periods in the country.

24 Morgan

Rep. Judy Morgan

“We will be second from the bottom in unemployment benefits,” Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, said. If the measure becomes law, only Florida would be listed lower.

Currently, the maximum total amount of benefits any insured worker can receive must not exceed 20 times their weekly benefit amount, or roughly 33 1/3 percent of his or her wage credits. Fitzpatrick’s bill would change that to work according to a fluctuating scale, based on the state’s unemployment rate.

Under the bill, if the state’s unemployment rates are 9 percent or higher, the eligibility period would remain at 20 weeks, but if it falls below 6 percent, it would then be reduced to 13 weeks.

In between those rates, the eligibility period drops one week for each half percent change in the unemployment rate.

In December 2016, Missouri’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent and has not been higher than 6 percent since June 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a fiscal analysis of the bill, the restrictions could save up to $6.5 million for the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund.

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The bill mirrors HB 150, a measure passed in 2015, which was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. While the veto was overridden by the House, the session ended before the Senate could override. It did so during a later session, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional.

Opponents of the bill call the bill an attack on Missourians, noting that several conservative states offer up to 26 weeks of benefits and higher compensation.

Rep. Jon Carpenter, far left, argues in opposition of HB 288, a bill making changes to unemployment compensation.

Rep. Jon Carpenter, far left, argues in opposition of HB 288, a bill making changes to unemployment compensation.

“We sure wish we could help out unemployed Missourians, but the fund just isn’t solvent and we just can’t afford it, so we have to pass HB 288,” Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, said sarcastically, mocking the reasoning for supporting the bill. “But it doesn’t really add up at the end of the day. Missouri isn’t the only state with unemployment insurance, and there a lot of other states that manage to do it.”

Fitzpatrick argued that it’s easier to qualify for jobless benefits in Missouri and that those states likely have more strict criteria.

Still, others point out that unemployment rates differ from city to city and between each county.

In the end, the measure was put to a vote and passed by a margin of 100-56. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

  

Benjamin Peters

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.

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