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House perfects coronavirus unemployment overpayment waiver

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bipartisan effort to forgive unemployment overpayments during the COVID-19 pandemic was perfected by the Missouri House Monday afternoon.

HB 1083, sponsored by Rep. J. Eggleston, would allow the Department of Labor to forgive non-fraudulent overpayments of unemployment benefits granted through the CARES Act or other federal programs designed to provide unemployment relief. 

“Many Americans had to stop working, resulting in layoffs, business closures, and lights going dim,” Eggleston said. “To try to atone for these decisions the feds approved the CARES Act and the Continued Assistance Act to distribute trillions of taxpayer dollars across the country, and various state and local entities felt the pressure to get that money out the door ASAP, including our own Department of Labor. Citizens who lost their jobs were encouraged to apply for unemployment benefits.”

The bill is an amalgamation of legislation from both sides of the aisle, composed of three bills from Democrats and four from Republicans. 

The Special Committee on Government Oversight, which Eggleston vice-chairs, considered legislative action during a hearing a month ago, inquiring of Labor Director Dr. Anna Hui and taking testimony from witnesses affected by the policy. Legislators on both sides of the aisle quickly drafted identical legislation, which was consolidated in the same committee two weeks later. 

Rep. Raychel Proudie, the ranking minority member of the committee, spoke in favor of the bill on the floor. 

“This is the right thing to do,” she said. “I don’t see a reason why we would deploy our state resources to collect money and send it back to the federal government… There is no reason for us to move money from our economy in the state of Missouri and put our citizens in such a position.”

An amendment from Rep. Ian Mackey would have forgiven state overpayments as well, but was voted down by the body.

Hui said during her testimony that state law required her department and the state to pursue the $150 million in overpayments. She said 2.3 percent of the 46,000 cases were due to fraud. Gov. Mike Parson also said the funds must be recouped. 

A report from Auditor Nicole Galloway found that Missourians had received $4.8 billion in unemployment due to the pandemic as of December. Federal assistance was distributed through last October.