The Missouri House has again voted to reduce the length of time people can claim unemployment benefits.
House Bill 288, sent to the Senate Thursday, would cut that time period from 20 to 13 weeks if the state’s unemployment rate is less than 6-percent. It could increase if the jobless rate increases, reaching a maximum of 20 weeks if that rate exceeds 9-percent.
Republicans said the measure is meant to keep the state’s unemployment fund solvent when the economy takes a downturn. Missouri has had to borrow money from the federal government to cover benefits in past economic slowdowns, and business owners have had to pay millions of dollars in interest on those loans.
Democrats including Gladstone representative Jon Carpenter called the bill unnecessary. He pointed to other states with Republican leadership that offer 26-weeks of benefits and pay more each month.
“Don’t vote yes on this bill because we’ve got to keep the fund solvent. Don’t let that be the argument unless somebody proves to you why that is – why that’s necessary when all these other states can do it,” said Carpenter.
Fitzpatrick said many of those states likely make getting benefits more difficult than does Missouri, allowing them to do more with fewer funds.
Representative Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) and other Republicans said 20 weeks is plenty of time for a person to find another job.
“Everyone here can do their due diligence and walk, and go through your districts and you will find ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere,” said Brattin. “We don’t have a ‘jobs’ problem. We have a ‘people willing to work problem’ within our districts.”
Representative Bruce Franks, Junior, (D-St. Louis City) said that isn’t true in his district, and said it can often take more than three months for a person to learn the skills or earn the certification needed to take on a new job.
“When we’re talking about bills – especially unemployment compensation, that affects every single Missourian – only thing I ask is the thing that I’ll continue to ask every time I stand up here and talk about any bill, is that we take all communities into consideration,” said Franks.
The measure mirrors one the legislature endorsed over the veto of former Governor Jay Nixon in 2015 that the state Supreme Court threw out on a procedural issue.