Jefferson City – Before wrapping up this year’s abysmal legislative session, Missouri's Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation that would reduce the weeks of available jobless benefits to one of the shortest periods in the nation.
The 109-53 vote met the bare minimum needed to override vetoes; a similar two-thirds majority vote is needed in the Senate for the measure to receive final approval.
ALREADY ONE OF THE LOWEST
Missouri already is one of seven states that offer less than the standard 26 weeks of benefits. The measure vetoed by Gov. Nixon would link the duration of jobless benefits to the state's unemployment rate, starting next January. The effect would be to cut the weeks of benefits available for laid-off workers from the current 20 to as few as 13, if the statewide unemployment rate remains below 6 percent.
The March unemployment rate for Missouri was 5.6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. An unemployment rate of over 9 percent would be needed to receive 20 weeks of benefits.
Some Republican-controlled legislatures in recent years have pushed to cut the benefits available, arguing that workers would have a greater reason to find a new job more quickly.
Four other states already link the duration of benefits to the unemployment rate – Kansas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
‘WHERE IS OUR HUMANITY?’
Just two states have minimums lower than Missouri's proposed 13 weeks. Florida and North Carolina both allow benefits to drop to as few as 12 weeks if the state unemployment rate is below 5 percent. Florida's benefits currently stand at 14 weeks and North Carolina's at 15 weeks.
“We are really hurting those people that are down and out right now,” said Rep. Margo McNeil (D-Florissant). “We're going to vote to be the absolute stingiest state in the nation with this override. I mean, where is our humanity?”
Republicans have made the legislation a priority as a way to reduce costs for employers. A similar measure passed last year and also was vetoed, but lawmakers fell two votes short of an override in the House.
This year's bill is different in that it also makes it more difficult for employees who get severance pay when they lose their jobs to qualify for benefits. That's because it would require lump-sum severance payments to be pro-rated on a weekly basis, potentially delaying the clock for when people can begin receiving benefits.
Missouri provides up to $320 a week in unemployment benefits, calculated based on a person's previous income.
The legislation also would increase the amount the state could hold in its unemployment insurance trust fund. It would encourage a state board to consider alternative mechanisms besides borrowing from the federal government when that fund runs out of money.
(Information from the Columbia Missourian)