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Jobless benefits could shrink to 13 weeks under bill passed by the Missouri House

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photo credit|Innov8social, Flickr, Creative Commons

Republican lawmakers are working to shorten the amount of time out-of-work Missouri residents can receive unemployment benefits.

The Missouri House Thursday passed legislation to create a sliding scale, in which the unemployment rate would have to be nine percent or higher in order to receive benefits for 20 weeks. Benefits would only be available for 13 weeks when the jobless rate is below six percent.

As of December, Missouri’s unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, meaning that under the proposal, those without jobs could only get help for up to 13 weeks.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, supported the measure.

“The last five recessions have resulted in Missouri having to go, hat in hand, to the federal government asking for a loan for unemployment compensation,” he said. “This bill puts unemployment compensation on a stable path so that we don’t have to borrow from the federal government every single time there’s a recession and have tax increases on our employers.”

Democrats argued that the bill would undermine the state motto, “the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”

“The (compensation) fund is solvent, it’s doing fine,” said Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone. “We don’t need to throw thousands of our fellow Missourians under the bus today; (almost) every other state manages to do 26 weeks, but we’re choosing to do something that’s bad for working people.”

According to a database compiled by FileUnemployment.org, 41 states and the District of Columbia offer benefits to the unemployed for up to 26 weeks. Massachusetts provides benefits for up to 30 weeks, the longest of any state. Florida has the shortest period at 12 weeks. Missouri is one of four states with a maximum benefits period of 20 weeks. The other three are Michigan, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

A similar bill was passed in 2015, but was vetoed by Democratic governor Jay Nixon. The House overrode his veto in May of that year, while the Senate waited until September. The Missouri Supreme Court later ruled that the Senate’s override vote was invalid, reinstating Nixon’s veto and tossing out the law.

This year’s bill now goes to the Missouri Senate. It was sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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