One week after hearing from the Department of Labor about the state’s efforts to seek repayment of erroneous unemployment payments from struggling Missourians, a bipartisan slate of House members is debating the best way to provide relief.
The Special Committee on Government Oversight has heard that of roughly $150-million in overpayments, only a small portion – roughly a quarter or less – came from the state’s unemployment trust. State statute requires the Department to get that paid back.
The larger portion comes from federal covid relief, the repayment of which the federal government has said states can choose to waive. Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) has told his Department he wants it to be paid back.
The committee held a hearing on six bills – three filed by Republicans and three by Democrats – and a resolution filed by a Democrat, to deal with the issue.
The big question before lawmakers is whether to require that Missourians pay back overpayments out of the state fund. Committee members from both parties say they would like to waive all repayment, but some are questioning whether that can be done. They are unanimous about finding a way to waive the federal repayments, but some think the state portion might have to be recouped.
Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps said a priority for the Department is to maintain the integrity of the state’s unemployment trust. His bill is one of those that would waive repayment of federal funds, but require Missourians to pay back state overpayments.
“If you’re sitting there staring at a letter that says you owe $4,200 back that’s probably not something you’re going to be able to digest real easy. Where if it says, ‘Hey, you owe $500 back and we’re going to be able to put you on a payment plan where you pay $50 a month for a couple of years, that’s probably something you can digest a heck of a lot easier,” said Cupps.
Cupps, who sits on the House Budget Committee, is one of those concerned that to waive the repayment of state benefits, the state would have to replenish the fund. This could come from other core budget functions, such as schools or transportation.
St. Louis Democrat Peter Merideth, also a Budget Committee member and sponsor of the resolution, noted that Governor Parson has proposed putting $500-million in federal CARES Act relief funds into the state’s unemployment trust. He suggests that would be a way to waive repayment of state overpayments while maintaining the fund.
“I think that we need to not wrap ourselves in circles trying to figure out where this money’s coming from and simply recognize that if we think this is an important form of the relief, well the federal government has given us $2-billion in relief money to use right now. Let’s use that,” said Merideth.
Cupps and other Republicans said they would consider that option.
“The main thing that I talked to the Department about was maintaining the integrity of the trust,” said Cupps. “If it’s already been discussed that we were gonna throw some CARES Act money in there … it is something that could be a tool in the toolbox … it’s something we maybe should look at.”
Five of the six bills filed are largely the same. Committee Chairman Jered Taylor (R-Republic), the sponsor of one of them, said his intention is to pare them down into one bill and to have the committee vote next week on that and the resolution.
The legislation dealing with unemployment overpayments includes: House Bill 1085 (Taylor), House Bill 1083 (J. Eggleston – R, Maysville), House Bill 1050 (Cupps), House Bill 1036 (LaKeySha Bosley – D, St. Louis), House Bill 1035 (Doug Clemens – D, St. Ann), House Bill 873 (Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis), and House Concurrent Resolution 30 (Merideth).