Missouri to drop extra federal pandemic unemployment aid

SUMMER BALLENTINE
Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday announced the state is cutting off all federal pandemic unemployment benefits in an attempt to push people back to work. 

Parson said those extra federal benefits will end for Missourians June 12. 

Roughly 53,500 Missourians received extra weeks of unemployment aid thanks to federal aid in the last week of April, according to the latest available data. 

Another 37,000 people who otherwise wouldn't qualify for regular unemployment help also claimed aid, according to a state labor department spokeswoman. That includes independent contractors, farm workers and people who are self-employed.

Missouri's unemployment rate hit 4.2% in March, down from 4.3% in February. 

Parson said business owners in Missouri are struggling to fill jobs as the economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. He said he hopes cutting the federal aid will push people back to work and address labor shortages.

"Continuing these programs only worsens the workforce issues we're currently facing," the Republican governor told reporters Tuesday. "It's time that we end these programs that have incentivized people to stay out of the workforce."

Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade in a Tuesday statement said the free market, "not some federal boogeyman," is mostly to blame for the labor shortage. She said workers will return if they're offered more money, especially for jobs where the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is higher. 

"If companies provide a livable wage, applicants will respond," she said. "The notion that Missourians are refusing to work so they can temporarily collect $300 a week is an offensive right-wing myth."

Missouri is t he latest of several states — Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina — ending the $300 federal benefit that is on top of state benefits. 

Labor experts say the shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people also have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

"Our economic recovery is nuanced, and many Missourians haven't been able to return to work because they still have children home from school or jobs aren't available in their areas," Amy Blouin, president and of the Missouri Budget Project, said in a statement. 

The nonprofit Missouri Budget Project analyzes state financial issues with an eye toward their impact on low-income residents.

Missouri's Republican-led Legislature has also considered cutting how long people can receive state unemployment help as a means to force people back to work, but those proposals have stalled. 

Lawmakers have until Friday to send bills to Parson.