COLUMBIA — State officials on Tuesday said they're reinstating requirements for unemployment and food stamps that were waived because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Anna Hui, director of the state's labor department, said workers will need to comply with job search requirements to keep getting unemployment after July 4.
She cited a study by the University of Chicago's Becker Friedman Institute for Economics that shows unemployment benefits, coupled with an extra $600 a week from the federal government, mean many workers nationally are getting more than they did while working.
The study lists Missouri workers as getting on average 152% to 161% of their past wages in unemployment benefits.
"We all know that a system that rewards individuals to be unemployed is unsustainable," Hui said.
Acting Department of Social Services Director Jennifer Tidball said starting July 1 families will again need to verify that they're still eligible to receive food stamps. The requirement was waived during the pandemic.
Tidball added that about 60% of eligible families of students who received free-and-reduced lunch at school have applied to get a one-time, maximum payment of $302. She said the agency extended the deadline to apply for the money to July 7.
Missouri's health department on Tuesday reported more than 16,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state since the pandemic began and 882 deaths.
Gov. Mike Parson let a statewide social distancing order expire Monday. The end of statewide rules comes as the coronavirus is spreading beyond Missouri's largest cities, fueled in part by outbreaks in meat packing plants and nursing homes.
"COVID-19 as of June 16 didn't disappear in Missouri," state health Director Randall Williams said. "So we have to be prepared to watch closely, working with our local partners everyday, to make sure that we get in there early before it gains momentum."
Williams said the Department of Health and Senior Services is sending two contact tracers and an interpreter to southwest Missouri, where the virus is spreading. He's also partnering with Arkansas' health director to develop a strategy for fighting the virus in that region.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the share of cases coming from rural areas now accounts for about 30% of the state's new cases — a greater portion than ever before. The seven-day average of daily new cases in areas of the state beyond the St. Louis and Kansas City metro regions, has generally been under 50. But since the middle of May, a gradual climb has pushed the pace to about 65 new cases a day.
"There's been this long-running perception that coronavirus is an urban phenomenon," said Chris Prener, a sociologist at St. Louis University who closely tracks Missouri coronavirus trends. "It's definitely an ongoing issue for rural areas."
The per-capita rate of infections has leapt more than tenfold over the past month in Sullivan County, near the Iowa border, where a giant pork processing plant dominates the local economy, and employees have voiced concern about vulnerability to the virus.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis area — the state's coronavirus epicenter for much of the outbreak — has seen new cases fall as the Kansas City region is getting hit significantly harder than ever.