JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri could soon reduce the number of unemployment checks a person receives, meaning laid-off workers could have five fewer weeks to find a job.
Missouri’s unemployment benefit system is already tied to the unemployment rate. Missourians can receive more benefits when unemployment is higher and fewer when the rate is low. The minimum number of benefits under current state law is 13 weeks, but the House approved to reduce it to eight weeks.
The state’s unemployment rate for March was 3.6%. Under the plan passed by representatives, those filing for unemployment would only receive payments for nine weeks. That’s four weeks less than what’s under current law.
“The phrase for years is good help is hard to find and talking to a lot of our employers, both the private and public sector over the last year or so, the new phrase is nay help is hard to find,” Rep. J. Eggleston said (R-Maysville) said.
Eggleston said he filed the bill to help Missouri business because there are tons of job openings but not enough people to fill them.
“I think there are jobs available now with the low unemployment rate really in every sector,” Eggleston said. “I haven’t seen this be unique to particular sectors of the job market. It’s pretty ubiquitous.”
The state pays up to $320 weekly for unemployment, but according to the Missouri Department of Labor, the average amount is $273.
“Unemployment rates are not equal across the state,” Rep. Jerome Barnes (D-Kansas City) said. “This bill is a bill that takes the benefits away from our workers for no fault of their own. What’s happening over in Joplin is not the same as Kansas City, St. Louis or Springfield.”
According to the state’s labor department, the unemployment rate differs from county to county. In January, when the Missouri’s unemployment rate was 3.8%, Taney County’s, south of Springfield was 10.5%.
- St. Louis City: 5.4%
- Jackson County: 4.5%
- St. Louis County: 4.1%
- Jasper County: 3.4%
- Greene County: 3.2%
“We’ve had many people who have come in and we’ve offered them a job and there’s no enthusiasm and there’s a no show,” Rep. Craig Fishel (R-Springfield) said.
Fishel, a contractor himself, said he’s struggling to find workers but wants to see more accountability in the system for those searching for work to remain in the benefits program.
“I have lived that for the last eight months,” Fishel said. “Lots of phone calls, lots of appointments and mostly all no shows.”
Under current law, a person receiving unemployment benefits will be paid for 20 weeks if the state’s rate is 9% or higher. Each time the percent drops half a percent, the benefit are shorten by a week, down to 13 weeks if the unemployment rate is less than 6%.
The new bill, which was approved by representatives Thursday 94-41 changes the plan to range from 13 to 20 weeks to 20 to 8 weeks, creating short pay periods for rates lower than 6%. It also adds a tier for each half-percent increase in the unemployment rate.
House Bill 1860
- 20 weeks of benefits if the unemployment rate is higher than 9%
- 15 weeks if the rate is between 6.5% and 7%
- 13 weeks if the rate is between 5.5% and 6%
- 10 weeks if the rate is higher than 4% but less than 4.5%
- 9 weeks if the rate is higher than 3.5% but no more than 4%
- 8 weeks if the rate is at or below 3%
“Right now, I think we are probably safe putting your legislation in place but tomorrow, as we do fill up those gaps, where are we going to be?,” Rep. Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann)asked Eggleston on the floor. “Most people are 10 weeks out of work before they can find a job.”
More than six other states index their unemployment including Kansas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
“We would have the lowest benefits in the country,” Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) said. “We’re already about there, this makes us significantly worse. Instead we just want to keep kicking people while they’re down and now kick them harder and make it harder to get back up.”
Rep. Emily Weber (D-Kansas City) told other members about her time being unemployed, explaining how the process can take months.
“It’s not just you go and apply for job and you get the job the next day or are right there,” Weber said. “You have to go through a process. 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.”
According to the Missouri’s Economic Research and Information Center, the last time the state had an unemployment rate above 9% was at the start of the pandemic.
The bill is now waiting to be taken up by the Senate, with only four weeks left in session. If approved and sent to the governor’s desk, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.