OPINION: Bill to further cut unemployment benefits would hurt Missouri families and communities


A proposal debated Feb. 7 in the Missouri Senate to further cut our state’s already limited unemployment benefits would do nothing to address the broader dynamics affecting employment in our state but would hurt workers, families, and local economies.

Unemployment benefits in Missouri are already lower than they are in most other states, and are also available for a shorter period of time. Senate Bill 21 would tie the duration of benefits to the statewide unemployment rate, cutting benefits to just eight weeks when the state unemployment rate is 3.5 percent or below.

“Although the job market has improved since the pandemic started, the economic recovery has been slower for some workers compared to others,” said Amy Blouin, Missouri Budget Project President & CEO. “What’s more, the overall state unemployment rate is often not representative of the economic conditions in various parts of the state.”

In fact, 50 of Missouri’s 114 counties have unemployment rates above the state average of 2.8 percent. The majority of counties with high unemployment are clustered in rural areas of Missouri, with especially high rates in the Bootheel and southern Missouri.

Cutting unemployment benefits would have a destabilizing effect on these local economies. Workers who have been laid off spend their benefits on food, housing, and other basic needs, creating a multiplier effect that fuels local economies. Further restricting those benefits would inhibit growth in communities that are already struggling.

“Attacking hard-working families at a time of vulnerability is not what our elected leaders should be focused on,” said Richard von Glahn, Policy Director with Missouri Jobs with Justice. “We should instead invest in job training programs that help workers get back on their feet.”

“This bill to cut unemployment benefits from 20 weeks down to eight weeks would be catastrophic for our members,” said Mike Heibeck, business manager with Ironworkers Local 396. “The goal for our members is to never have to collect unemployment. But when you don’t have a paycheck coming in, having that $300 a week helps make ends meet until they’re able to go to work on the next job.”

Cutting unemployment assistance for those who need it is not the answer for workers or for employers. Our state can better address complicated labor dynamics and bolster our workforce by investing in caregiving so that employees who are caring for children or aging relatives are able to work and removing other barriers to work through policies like the clean slate initiative.

(Crystal Brigman Mahaney is a member of the United Media Guild and communications director for Missouri Jobs with Justice.)

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