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Politics, Elections and Government

Missouri House approves bill shortening unemployment benefits to as few as 8 weeks

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives debate redistricting legislation on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, during session at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives debate redistricting legislation on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, during session at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Missouri’s current unemployment benefit ranges from 13 to 20 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate. The new bill shortens it to as few as eight.

Depending on the state’s unemployment rate, Missourians out of work could see their unemployment benefits shrink to eight weeks, according to legislation the House passed Thursday.

The bill, which lawmakers approved 94-41, modifies the state’s current unemployment benefit plan, which ranges from 13 to 20 weeks depending on Missouri’s unemployment rate. It’s now 20 weeks if the state’s rate is 9% or higher, down to 13 weeks if the rate is lower than 6%.

The new bill creates a guide for rates even lower than 6%, along with shorter pay periods. Under the new bill, Missourians could receive between eight and 12 weeks of payments, depending on the state’s unemployment rate, with the lowest listed rate at 3.5% or below.

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, the bill's sponsor, said this change is meant to help businesses find workers.

“The phrase for years has been, ‘Good help is hard to find,’ and talking to a lot of our employers, both private sector and public sector over the last year or so, the new phrase is, ‘Any help is hard to find.’ A lot of job openings, not a lot of people to fill them,” Eggleston said. “So this is meant to address that.”

The new index, according to the legislation, adds a tier at about each half-percent increase in the unemployment rate. An unemployed worker would receive eight weeks of payments when the state’s unemployment rate sits at 3.5% or lower, nine weeks when the rate is higher than 3.5% but lower than 4% and so on, finally stopping at 20 weeks at an unemployment rate of 9% or higher.

Missouri’s unemployment rate, according to February numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sits at 3.7%, meaning someone qualified to earn unemployment benefits would have them for nine weeks under the bill, instead of 13.

Democrats in the House repeatedly spoke against the legislation, including Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, who talked about her experience of being unemployed. She said finding a new job, even when actively searching for one, can take months.

“It's not just you go and apply for a job and you get the job the next day or are right there. That's not what is happening, you do have to go through a process. And I really hope that none of you experience being laid off from a job or having your children experience being laid off, especially during some hard times still,” Weber said.

The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. It hasn't gone through the Missouri Senate yet, with only four weeks left in the legislative session. While the Senate has heard discussion on the floor on a similar bill, that legislation has yet to advance.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

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