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Court sides with Parson’s decision to end federal pandemic unemployment benefits

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri can still end its federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits after a court denied a preliminary injunction Tuesday. 

Gov. Mike Parson ended the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits in June in what he said was an effort to encourage more Missourians to get back into the workforce after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses. 

“The decision to withdraw from unnecessary and uncontrolled federal spending programs is a matter of policy, and we appreciate the court recognizing that fact and our administration’s authority to address these workforce issues,” Parson said in a statement. “Restarting extended federal unemployment benefits and the excessive expenditure of taxpayer dollars would have been detrimental to the progress we have made to get folks back to work. While businesses across Missouri are still facing workforce shortages, they have expressed how our move to end these benefits — that were intended to be temporary — has helped employ and retain new workers.”

Cole County Judge Jon Beetem denied a request for a preliminary injunction Tuesday, saying the plaintiffs “failed to show a probability of success on the merits.” The order noted the federal benefits are set to expire on Sept. 6. 

The order also said while the state is obligated to enact “traditional” federal unemployment programs, it does not have the same obligation when it comes to the temporary benefits awarded through the CARES  Act. 

“[T]he balancing of harms and the public interest strongly favor the Governor’s decision to promote economic recovery and encourage workers’ re-entry into Missouri’s critically understaffed labor force,” the order said. “The Court will not substitute its judgment for that of Missouri’s duly elected Governor on such an important policy question, which both Missouri law and the principle of separation of powers confer on Missouri’s Executive Branch.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Missouri Jobs with Justice and sought to restart the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits program and secure retroactive payments for those still struggling during the pandemic. The group argued ending the program failed to spur economic development and instead caused harm to those facing a loss of income. 

“This was never about getting people back to work,” Caitlyn Adams, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, said of the challenge. “This was about giving corporations more power and to force workers to work for low wages. The governor hoped that by making Missourians desperate, they would return to low wage and unsafe working conditions. This unconscionable decision has caused irreparable harm for thousands of families — harm we seek to mitigate today.”

The group estimated more than $770 million had been blocked from Missouri families since the benefits were halted. 

The Attorney General’s Office, which argued on behalf of the state, dubbed the order a win Tuesday. 

“As Missouri’s economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are still struggling to hire workers for a large number of open, available jobs. Too often, businesses can’t compete with the steady stream of federal benefits,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said. “Today’s ruling affirmed the legality of Gov. Parson’s decision to terminate these temporary benefits and will hopefully lead to the hiring of workers for businesses that desperately need the help.”

At the time of Parson’s decision, he said there were 221,266 unfilled jobs in Missouri with the unemployment rate hovering at 4.2 percent. His move was heralded by the Missouri chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Missouri was not the only state to curb federal coronavirus-related benefits as the workforce dwindled nationwide. The six programs impacted by Parson’s decision were: 

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
  • Emergency Unemployment Relief for Government Entities and Nonprofit Organizations
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
  • 100 Percent Reimbursement of Short-Time Compensation Benefit Costs Paid Under State Law
  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation

Missouri reported a 4.2 percent unemployment rate for the month of July, with more than 32,746 initial claims filed for the month. 

This story has been updated.