Governor extends unemployment benefits to Missourians

By Audrey Moon

State Capitol Bureau, Missouri Digital News

JEFFERSON CITY – Gov. Jay Nixon hopes to have extended benefit checks in the mail to unemployed Missourians in a few days.

The bill to extend benefits reached Nixon’s desk Wednesday after Senate Republicans compromised on sending back some of the state’s federal stimulus money.

“I called on members of the Missouri Senate to roll up their sleeves and pass this legislation that will provide 20 weeks of additional unemployment assistance to Missourians who have lost their jobs because of no fault of their own,” Nixon said.

Nixon signed the unemployment extension benefits into law, which will take effect immediately. Recipients of those benefits will be contacted by the Missouri Department of Labor and receive their benefits in the next several days.

Sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Barney Fischer, R-Richards, said he was relieved the bill passed and called its passage a bipartisan effort.

“Thousand of Missourians can breathe a little easier today and continue to put food on the table and pay their bills,” he said.

The legislation will provide $105 million in federal stimulus to the 10,000 Missourians who have already exhausted other unemployment benefits, including emergency federal benefits. The extended benefits continue until Jan. 7, 2012, when they expire. Nixon said to be eligible for the benefits, people must keep looking for work, make contact with vocational employers and check in with state career centers.

An amendment to cut the state-funded benefit extensions from 26 to 20 weeks was included in the bill as part of the compromise, which lawmakers said will save the state up to $108 million. They said businesses will save by not having to pay into unemployment trust funds when they reduce the time frame for eligibility.

Unemployment benefits ended on April 2, and a vote to approve the extension had been halted by a filibuster in the Senate. On April 6, Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said he was not trying to punish unemployed Missourians but wanted to send a message to the federal government to stop overspending.

“I think it is important not only for Missouri, I think it is important for all states, to stand up and say to the federal government, ‘We are not willing to be accomplices in your overspending and you piling debt on this nation and on this generation and the next,” Lembke said.

Senate GOP and Senate leaders compromised to end the filibuster, agreeing to send $250 million in federal stimulus money back to the federal government. The House sent the legislation to the governor’s desk on a 138-13 vote on April 7. Currently, the Missouri unemployment fund is $1 billion in debt to the federal government, according to the Senate president pro tem.

Nixon said a March jobs report showed that Missouri added 24,300 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell 0.3 percent.