JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson moved to cut federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits Tuesday, arguing the move would encourage more Missourians to get back into the workforce. Missouri will phase-out of the six programs by June 12.
“From conversations with business owners across the state, we know that they are struggling not because of COVID-19 but because of labor shortages resulting from these excessive federal unemployment programs,” Parson said. “While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary, and their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing. It’s time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.”
The six programs are:
- 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
Parson said there were 221,266 unfilled jobs in Missouri with the unemployment rate hovering at 4.2 percent.
“Thanks to the governor’s actions, small business owners will now get some much-needed help with a growing issue,” Brad Jones, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) State Director in Missouri, said. “The numbers are clear: Nearly half of Missouri’s small business owners are struggling to fill open positions. Haven’t they suffered enough from the economic and global pandemic? In order to get Missouri back up and running, we need our small business owners to grow. They can’t do that without workers. Today’s actions by the governor will get people off the sidelines and back to work.”
The $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement was extended through September earlier this year as part of President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion relief package. A U.S. Census survey conducted in March found that about 4.2 million Americans weren’t working — not because of the stimulus money, but because of fear of getting or spreading COVID-19.
More than 8,200 Missourians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending on May 1. The previous week say more than 12,400 initial claims, according to the Department of Labor.
More than half of Missourians who filed for unemployment in 2020 were new filers, Director Anna Hui has said. Monthly initial claims increased to more than 300,000 in 2020; in 2019, that number was less than 50,000.
The first major spike came during the week of March 21, 2020, which saw 42,207 filings — more than 10 times the prior week. Weekly initial claims then remained above 90,000 for three weeks in a row. The increase coincided with quarantine and stay-at-home orders that shuttered businesses and left workers in multiple industries without jobs.
“The unemployment system is designed to provide a temporary safety net as workers look to reenter the job market,” Hui said Tuesday. “Leaving the level of benefits artificially high would prevent a return to full employment in our state.”
Parson joins a growing list of Republican governors moving to phase out the programs, including those from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and South Carolina. Montana will issue one-time checks of $1,200 to individuals who rejoin the workforce; Parson said that option was not on the table for Missourians.
Without opting out, the $300-week federal payments were set to expire in September.
Federal unemployment benefits are also the subject of legislative debate this session as lawmakers have worked to adequately address the accidental overpayment of benefits issued to Missourians during the pandemic. Approximately $150 million in overpayments — of both state and federal funds — were sent to about 46,000 Missourians. Of the overpayments, approximately $40 million came from the state and $108 million from federal funds, a Department of Labor spokeswoman told The Missouri Times.
“The governor has consistently failed to meet the needs of Missourians since this pandemic began,” U.S. Congresswoman Cori Bush said. “He failed to address COVID-19 as infections rose. He failed to institute a mask mandate even though the science shows masks are effective in saving lives. He failed to equitably distribute the vaccine, abandoning Black and brown communities that have been hit hardest by this pandemic, from St. Louis to Kansas City. Every step of the way, Gov. Parson has failed the people of Missouri — and today’s announcement is yet another massive failure that will put the lives and livelihoods of regular, everyday people at risk.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.