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House approves changes to unemployment benefits

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill today that would tie unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate in Missouri.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick sponsored HB 150, which was perfected on the House floor today. Fitzpatrick’s bill would tie the duration of unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate in Missouri. The bill provides a bracket range for unemployment ranging from a full 20 weeks of benefits if the rate exceeds 9 percent to only 13 weeks if unemployment falls below 6 percent.

Fitzpatrick and supporters of the bill say that it will beef up the state’s Unemployment Compensation fund which, when depleted, borrows money from the federal government, often at the cost of state business. Individual business owners cannot predict those costs.

“Missouri is the only state in the country whose state unemployment trust fund has run out of money in each of the last 5 recessions,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s an all-of-the-above approach. We’re not trying to fix this problem balancing the trust fund on the back of just the employee or just the employer.”

Fitzpatrick said businesses had no way of predicting costs associated with the unemployment fund. The bill also seeks to increase the minimum amount that can be in the fund before employers see a tax rate reduction. That move, Fitzpatrick said, was part of an effort to balance the burden of keeping the fund solvent on both workers and their bosses.

Detractors, including several labor union officials, say the bill will place an unfair burden on businesses like construction that see more fluctuating unemployment rates.

“At a time when so many working families are trying to get back to work, it’s not the right time for the legislature to penalize those same families,” Mike Louis, President of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said. “Let’s have legislation that moves us forward to create more jobs.”

Jeff Aboussie, the Executive Secretary Treasurer for the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council, said the legislature should be “making workers whole.”

“Why are we allowing people to suffer even more than they already have?” Aboussie said. “Being on unemployment is a demoralizing things, it’s just basic bare survival. We shouldn’t be punishing those folks.”

The bill still has one more vote in the House before it formally moves to the Senate.