House passes bill that could limit unemployment benefits

April 20, 2022


Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — Under a bill passed by the Missouri House on Thursday, unemployed residents could be limited to receiving benefits for as little as eight weeks.

The amount of time an insured worker can receive unemployment is determined by the average unemployment rate in the state. As the average unemployment rate goes down, so does the number of weeks a person can draw unemployment benefits. For example, a person can receive 20 weeks of unemployment if the average unemployment rate is higher than 9% but only 13 weeks if the rate is less than 6%.

HB 1860, proposed by Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, sets tighter limits on the number of weeks a person can draw benefits when the state has low unemployment rates. If the rate is 3.5% or less, for example, they could receive eight weeks of benefits. With Missouri’s latest unemployment rate of 3.7%, eligible individuals could draw benefits for nine weeks.

In committee, proponents of the bill said it would incentivize people to rejoin the workforce when there are more jobs available.

“This will help get those who are out of work back to work, help our struggling employers find and fill the many job openings that we have, and help our Missouri economy improve,” Eggleston said Thursday, noting the bill has been in development for years.

The bill passed on a vote of 94-41. It now heads to the Senate.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would hurt residents who are especially vulnerable after losing a job. Though several agreed there is a need to address unemployment in the state, they argued this regulation would harm residents in rural counties or other areas with higher rates than the rest of the state, as well as lower-wage workers, who are disproportionately people of color.

“When businesses close because there’s an economic downturn, that tends to impact lower-wage workers first,” said Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson. “Eight weeks, sometimes, is not enough time to relocate to where work is and find work.”

Proudie and other Democrats said it was insulting to limit coverage for workers who had paid for unemployment insurance.

“This is really a slap in the face,” she said.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, suggested the body put its efforts into other strategies that could lower unemployment, including workforce development programs, raising the minimum wage or expanding access to child care.

“There is an issue, yes, but I do believe that this is not the way we should go about it,” Weber said. “Hurting people who are unemployed is not going to help Missouri.”

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, argued that Missouri already has some of the tightest restrictions to unemployment access, and that HB 1860 would only “kick people when they’re down.”

“I hate this bill,” he said. “This bill hurts the people of Missouri. This is one more bill that would put us at the bottom of the country in how we treat the people that live here.”