The Missouri Department of Labor this month announced a waiver process for those Missourians who received federal unemployment assistance and were then told they had not been eligible for it. Over the past few days it sent notices to Missourians who may be eligible for such a waiver.
House lawmakers in both parties pushed to have the state refuse to seek repayment of federal unemployment benefits. Many had heard from constituents that the Department was demanding back money Missourians received while struggling in the midst of the COVID crisis, and typically months after it was already spent.
HB 1083 passed out of the House 157-3 in early March but did not reach the Governor’s desk.
Lawmakers heard that some Missourians were being told the pay back in excess of $10,000 in federal and state unemployment overpayments. The Department’s action would relieve the federal overpayment liability, which makes up the vast majority of that.
The Missouri House has voted to waive the biggest portion of unemployment overpayments that some 46,000 Missourians were being told to repay. House members also heard that Governor Mike Parson (R) now supports the effort, and his Department of Labor will “pause” efforts to collect the federal portion of those overpayments while the legislation is moving.
Legislators learned that many of the Missourians who applied for and received unemployment assistance last year were then told that the state erred in finding them eligible. They were told they had to pay back the money, often months after it had already been spent on necessities. Some Missourians owed more than $20,000.
The bill that was passed on Thursday would waive the federal portion of those repayments, which amounts to roughly three quarters or more of what most owed. The legislation was the product of a broad, bipartisan effort.
Republic representative Jered Taylor (R) chaired the committee that held hearings with the Department of Labor about this issue. He said waiving this portion is the right thing to do for Missourians who were and are struggling, and were encouraged to apply by the state and federal governments.
Democrats supported the bill, though some say Missouri should also waive repayment of state unemployment overpayments. Republicans say to do that would jeopardize the integrity of the state’s unemployment trust, and lead to higher payments for the small businesses that pay into it – business which are also struggling due to the COVID crisis.
He and other Democrats say the state could use CARES Act money to waive the state’s share of these overpayments and keep small businesses from being impacted. Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps said he’d be good with that.
The House rejected an emergency clause – language that would make the bill effective immediately upon being signed by the governor. Instead it would take effect August 28. Eggleston said this was part of an effort that’s developed in the last few days to ensure the governor’s support. He said the Department wants time for training and the creation of paperwork that would go into issuing up to 46,000 waivers.
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.
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.
House members from both parties are not happy that Missourians are being asked to pay back unemployment assistance they received in error through no fault of their own.
Department of Labor Director Anna Hui told the Special Committee on Government Oversight overpayments are “kind of built into” the unemployment system. The Department is expected to make an eligibility determination and get a payment out to an applicant within 14 days, generally based solely on information provided by the applicant. As additional information comes in, often from the applicant’s current or past employers, it could prove he or she was not eligible.
She said for 2020 that amounted to about $150-million in benefits that the Department paid out and now wants back.
Hui told the committee Governor Mike Parson (R) has made clear that he wants the Department to seek collection of those overpayments, viewing them as taxpayer dollars that went to ineligible individuals.
Several legislators said they have heard from constituents who have been asked to pay back thousands of dollars in state or federal relief, sometimes months after they received it. One constituent was asked to repay about $23,000.
Representatives, including Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), said the reasons given to individuals for their ineligibility were not always clear. She read a letter the Department sent to one of her constituents telling them they had to repay for a “miscellaneous reason.” Proudie called that “unacceptable.”
Federal directives have given states the option not to require repayment of assistance from the federal government, which makes up the majority of the $150-million the Department overpaid. Hui explained that Missouri is choosing to seek repayment of federal relief.
The Department is required by state statute to collect overpayments out of the state fund.
Dan Thacker represents a union including about 500 school bus drivers and monitors. He said many of them make salaries that would put them near the poverty level, yet roughly 400 are being asked to pay back thousands of dollars.
St. Joseph Republican Bill Falkner said any legislative action will have to balance the waiving of repayment by Missourians with protecting businesses, as some of these overpayments are charged to them.
Committee members also spoke directly to Missourians during the hearing. Cupps said the repayment situation is adding to already heightened stress for struggling Missourians. He wants them to know he and other legislators are paying attention, and are looking for a solution.
Hui told the committee that Missouri is on pace to need a loan to support the state’s unemployment trust, likely by around June. She did not offer a projection of how great that loan might be. She said this could cause employers to have to pay more, as that loan is repaid.
Witnesses and lawmakers alike suggested that repayment decisions have seemed arbitrary and inconsistent, with some people being ordered to pay back only federal funds, some to pay back only state funds, and some told to pay everything or nothing.
If you renew the license plates on your vehicle after August 28* you might not have to get it inspected, under a bill signed into law this month.
Senate Bill 89 will extend from five to ten years the age of a vehicle before it must be inspected every two years, as long as it has fewer than 150,000 miles on it.
That provision was sponsored by Representative J. Eggleston (R-Maysville). He had discussed vehicle inspections with a former representative who wanted to eliminate them altogether. Eggleston initially thought that would go too far, but after doing some research, he felt that there was little connection between requiring regular inspections and ensuring that vehicles on the roads are safe.
Eggleston said the change in law would apply to roughly half of the vehicles that currently would have to be inspected and a third of the total number of vehicles on the road today.
The proposal cleared both chambers, but was met with vocal opposition from some lawmakers who thought it would make Missouri roads less safe. St. Louis representative Donna Baringer (D) said one can look at how many cars are on Missouri roads with expired temp tags to see that people won’t be responsible enough to get vehicle inspections.
Baringer said she doesn’t think vehicles in states that don’t require inspections are as safe as those in states that do, regardless of what statistics might show. She said she sees evidence of that daily in cars that cross into her St. Louis district from neighboring Illinois.
Eggleston’s original bill, HB 451, passed out of the House in March, 102-45.
SB 89 also includes provisions that require the revocation of the driver’s license of a person who hits a highway worker or emergency responder in a work or emergency zone; and require that all homemade trailers be inspected.
An earlier version of this story said the vehicle inspection law changes take effect January 1, 2020. It was learned that provision was not included in SB 89, so the changes take effect August 28, 2019.
The state House has backed off of a proposal to eliminate vehicle inspections in Missouri. Instead it proposes that inspections would not be required until a vehicle is 10 years old or has more than 150,000 miles on it.
An earlier version of House Bill 451 would have done away with inspections for non-commercial vehicles in Missouri. Bill sponsor J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) said he knew his colleagues had a lot of concerns about that idea, so he reworked it.
Eggleston said he talked to more than 100 House members from both parties about their issues with the bill before arriving at the current language. It would push back from 5 years to 10 the age at which regular inspections of a vehicle must be done, and creates the requirement that inspections begin when a vehicle has 150,000 miles on it.
Many lawmakers said they were pleased with the changes and Eggleston’s efforts to step back from his original proposal, but some still opposed the bill.
“How did you make it back here? It must have been dodging all those terrible vehicles that don’t get inspections that are just falling apart constantly. How did you make it back to this body?” a sarcastic Chipman asked.
“You know, it really didn’t look a whole lot different [from] our state,” said Eggleston.
Eggleston stressed that school bus inspections in Missouri would not be changed under his legislation, and used cars will face the same inspection requirements they do now.
The House voted 102-45 to send his bill to the Senate.
The Missouri House has advanced a proposal to join 35 other states in eliminating the requirement that motor vehicles be inspected in order to be licensed.
House Bill 451 is sponsored by Maysville Republican J. Eggleston, who said when the idea was introduced to him he was opposed to it. Then he started doing research and found himself convinced that eliminating the state’s vehicle inspection program wouldn’t make Missouri roads any less safe.
Eggleston said in his research he found no direct correlation between whether a state requires inspections and the number of crashes that occur there or how high its insurance rates are. He said the 15 states that still require inspections actually have a slightly higher rate of fatal accidents.
Eggleston said eliminating the program would lift significant burdens from Missourians, who pay $30-million a year in inspection fees, and must take time off from work and make other sacrifices to get inspections done.
Boonville Republican Dave Muntzel said based on reports to the Missouri Highway Patrol from vehicle inspections done in the state, 18-percent of vehicles 5 or more years old do not pass inspection, and 25-percent of vehicles 10 or more years old don’t pass.
Representative Donna Baringer (D-St. Louis) said no one came to testify in favor of this bill before a House committee but many people came from throughout the state to testify against it. She noted that in 2017, 15 people died in accidents related to vehicles with safety defects; and more than 15-thousand people were cited for failure to register a vehicle with the Department of Revenue.
The Missouri House has voted to allow those suffering from terminal and debilitating conditions to use medical marijuana. The proposal now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy. If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.
The House voted 112-44 to send that bill to the Senate, but some Republicans spoke against IT even though it is sponsored by one of their fellows.
He also argued that the bill is too broad in what conditions it would allow medical marijuana to be used for, because it would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to add conditions to that list if at least ten physicians sign a petition calling for it to be added.
Representative J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) said passing HB 1554 would send Missouri down a similar path to that the nation has taken with opioids. Those are now seen as the crux of a health crisis, but they started off as a way to treat pain.
A state representative’s wife and he are recovering after a three-way kidney transplant that she needed to save her life.
Cathie Eggleston, wife of Maysville representative J. Eggleston (R), was in need of the transplant. J. Eggleston learned he wasn’t a match to donate to her directly, but through the Kidney Paired Donation program he donated a kidney to a patient in Michigan. That patient’s friend donated a kidney to someone elsewhere in the U.S., and that recipient’s friend donated a kidney to Cathie.
The first round of surgeries began around 5 a.m. Wednesday, with the second round beginning around 2 p.m. that afternoon. All were completed successfully and Cathie and J. Eggleston are recovering.
Eggleston said his wife was down to about 15-percent kidney function as of her latest appointment. Without a donation she would have had to go to dialysis each day for the rest of her life. He said she was expected to live about five years if she went on dialysis.
Cathie’s journey began roughly a year ago when she went to a doctor who discovered she had extremely high blood pressure.
J. Eggleston said he’s grateful that the KPD program exists. He encourages everyone to take advantage of any opportunity to donate organs, including by filling out the donation form on the back of a Missouri driver’s license.
Cathie Eggleston will spend about six weeks recovering. J. will need about three weeks before he returns to the Capitol. The couple will spend part of that time staying with their son in Smithville and being helped by Cathie’s sister who will come from her home in North Dakota for a few weeks.
J. Eggleston thanks his son and sister-in-law, as well as several representatives who have agreed to handle legislation he has filed while he recovers.
About 18,000 people receive kidney transplants in the U.S. each year. Roughly 12,000 of those come from deceased donors and the remainder from friends or loved ones. About 100,000 people are on the waiting list hoping to receive a kidney.