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Missouri Joins Other GOP States In Ending COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits

Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, that Missouri will end participation in federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits in June.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, that Missouri will end participation in federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits in June.

Gov. Mike Parson said the programs provide a disincentive for people to work, but the move brought about criticism from Rep. Cori Bush and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday that Missouri will end participation in a federal program providing an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits.

It’s a similar move that other GOP-led states have made in recent weeks, contending that the benefit is incentivizing people not to work — and in turn causing labor shortages at places like restaurants.

During a press conference at the Missouri State Capitol, Parson said that Missouri will no longer participate in six COVID-19-related unemployment programs that are run by the federal government. That’s allowed unemployed workers to get $300 a week in addition to whatever benefit they get from the state.

Parson said the federal unemployment benefit is providing a disincentive for people to go back to work.

“It’s time that we end these programs that have incentivized people to stay out of the workforce,” Parson said. “This is an important step to returning to normalcy and strengthening our economy.”

Other Republican-led states, like Montana and South Carolina, have announced plans to no longer provide the federal unemployment relief. That comes amid widespread reports of restaurants and other businesses that are struggling to find workers to keep up with increased demand.

Parson said while the benefits were helpful to people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, he added that they weren’t meant to last forever.

“Continuing these programs only worsens the workforce issues we’re currently facing,” Parson said.

Parson’s announcement brought about condemnation from U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, who has strongly supported unemployment benefits that were in the American Rescue Plan. She said Parson’s “announcement is yet another massive failure that will put the lives and livelihoods of regular, everyday people at risk.”

“I know what it’s like to work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week and still not have enough to live,” Bush said. “My story is not unique; it’s one shared by thousands across our state. We cannot blame federal unemployment benefits for worker shortages. The only way our economy, our region, and our country can heal from this pandemic is by treating workers with the respect and dignity they deserve, and that begins by paying them a living wage.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones also slammed the decision in a tweet, stating that “stripping unemployment benefits just to force Missourians into jobs without a living wage or benefits will only increase the burden of poverty on our working families.”

“Want to get people back to work? Pay them a minimum of $15/hr,” Jones wrote.

Parson said he doesn’t agree with the contention that workers aren’t returning to places like restaurants because they want to find jobs with higher pay than before the pandemic started.

“As the business arena comes back, I think you’re seeing more and more employers knowing that they’re going to have to pay more money to get employees back in,” Parson said. “Where somebody decides to go to work is totally up to the individuals. But I think the reality is the market itself is going to set the wages in the state of Missouri and we see that growing every day too.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.
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