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Missouri ready to end relaxed unemployment rules

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

The head of Missouri's Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said Tuesday that the state is ending its waiver of work-search requirements for those getting unemployment.

Anna Hui, speaking at Gov. Mike Parson's COVID-19 briefing in the Capitol, said the state will also begin charging employers' accounts for unemployment claims on July 5. She encouraged employers to report those workers who were furloughed but will not return to work.

Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below.

Hui's statements came on the first day after Missouri's statewide COVID-19 health order expired.

Hui said in response to a reporter's question that workers will not be able to continue collect unemployment if a company has offered what the state deems suitable work.

"We do have several thousand employers who have either already been on the website or have done some kind of report of employees who they’ve offered suitable work to and are not returning," Hui said.

She said it's time for employers and workers to have conversations about how to safely return to work now that the state has fully reopened.

State unemployment payments have been supplemented by a $600 weekly payment for every worker on unemployment under the federal CARES Act.

Hui said the work-search requirement will also return July 5. She said federal unemployment benefits have paid two-thirds of their recipients more than they earned working.

Those benefits were always meant to be a temporary, partial income replacement, Hui said.

Some workers, including those with return-to-work dates already established, will continue to be exempt from the search requirement.

Many workers have already returned to jobs as the state continues to rebound economically from the COVID-19 shutdown. Hui said requests for weekly unemployment payments peaked at about 440,000 in mid-April but were down to about 350,000 to start June.

Jennifer Tidball, acting director of the Department of Social Services, said the state is expanding its utility assistance program, known as LIHEAP, to help those economically hurt during the pandemic.

Tidball said $15 million more is being devoted to the program for help with utility bills from July 1 through Sept. 30. The maximum benefit will increase to $600 per family and will be eligible for families making up to 135 percent of the federal poverty level.

A monthly income of $2,400 is the qualifying threshold for a family of three, Tidball said.

Tidball said the department will also resume requirements that food stamp recipients submit paperwork each year to verify they still qualify. That process will restart in July.

The state has also extended to July 7 deadline to sign up for P-EBT -- a program that provides food assistance for families whose children receive free or reduced-price lunch from schools.

More details on nursing homes

Parson and state health director Dr. Randall Williams also provided more information on the state's new guidelines for nursing homes to want to allow visitors to see residents.

The state issued guidelines for outdoor visits and for nursing home residents to have communal activities on Monday. Williams said the guidance does not mean that homes are fully reopened to the public.

Parson said the reopening of nursing homes will be a slow, phased-in approach, but acknowledged that people want to see their loved ones. The state must balance that desire with the need to protect nursing home residents, Parson said.

COVID-19 has been hardest on older people, with a large majority of Missouri's deaths coming in patients over 50 years old.

Williams said rules from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services still restrict visitors to nursing homes.

Missouri entered the second phase of Parson's COVID-19 recovery plan Tuesday morning. Boone County is still under coronavirus restrictions until June 22.

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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