State pays out far fewer extended unemployment benefits than expected

By Audrey Moon

JEFFERSON CITY – Far fewer Missourians have collected the extended unemployment benefits compared to the numbers Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration had identified when promoting the legislation.

Nixon had said that roughly 10,000 people were waiting to receive the benefits that had been stalled by the legislature with a filibuster in the Senate.

More than a week later, however, the Labor Department said only about 4,000 payments had been issued in those first days after the governor’s signature on April 13. As of April 23, the department reports only about 8,500 payments had been made under the new extension.

The department, however, was unable to identify how many of the 10,000 persons cited in earlier arguments are actually still unemployed and have received the extended benefits.

A department spokesperson, Amy Susan, said payments may have involved multiple claims and that there is no data to indicate how many persons actually received benefits in one or more payments. She said it is impossible to keep track of every person eligible for benefits because different weeks bring different claims to the department.

“There is no way to say out of the 10,000 people how many people came back to claim extended benefits,” Susan said. ” … It is so difficult because it is a large group of individuals and every week their circumstances change. It is so hard to pinpoint.”

The bill signed by the governor renewed Missouri’s participation in a federal program that provides 20 weeks of additional benefits to people who already have been unemployed for a year and a half. If claimants still had money left when their benefits exhausted on April 2, then they are still eligible to receive their leftover balance.

Susan said about 8,500 payments have been transacted, although there is no way to know how many individuals are making those claims in the month since payments were exhausted. The department has no backlog of claims.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, led the Republican filibuster that kept the legislature from extending benefits for two weeks because he thought the state should not accept the federal money. Now, Lembke said he thinks the Department of Labor ought to be able to keep track of the number of people receiving benefits.

“I would think it is their responsibility to administer this program,” Lembke said. “We certainly haven’t heard anything from them in committee as far as being short-handed for administrating the program. Nothing we are doing currently in the legislative process should be affecting their ability to distribute these extended benefits.”

The extended benefits provides $105 million in federal stimulus money to Missourians who have already exhausted other unemployment benefits, including emergency federal subsidies. As of April 16, the department had paid out $1.4 million, also compensating for the lost payments from April 2 when the program ended to April 13 when the governor signed the extension bill.

The labor department is still trying to contact people who are eligible to receive benefits. Susan said the people who have not received their benefits stopped making weekly contact with the Labor Department after the program exhausted, which took them out of the department’s computer system.

To be eligible for the benefits, people must keep looking for work, make contact with vocational employers and check in with state career centers.

A March jobs report showed that Missouri added 24,300 jobs and the unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percent. Unemployment hovers around 9.1 percent in Missouri, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thirty-eight thousand unemployment claims were filed in March.