JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
State officials say they plan to collect the state portion of overpaid unemployment benefits given out during the COVID-19 pandemic but will waive the federal portion of payments.
The Missouri Department of Labor announced Tuesday waivers are available for the federal portion of the overpaid unemployment. The waivers would not cover the state's portion of the over $151 million in overpaid unemployment aid.
In 2020 Missouri paid out at least $151 million to 47,000 people who did not qualify for aid amid record-high national unemployment numbers. The Missouri Department of Labor recognized its mistake and asked for the money back.
Although Missourians may keep the federal portion of their aid if their waivers are approved, the Department of Labor said it will start collecting the state portion in August.
"Missouri law does NOT authorize a waiver of recovery for State unemployment benefit overpayments," Maura Browning, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, said in an email.
Amy Minich was laid off due to the pandemic. In order to continue supporting her daughter, she filed for unemployment. She later was told she has to pay back that unemployment.
“It's very difficult to tell your kid, 'Hey we can't do that, we can't do any of these things, we can't afford this today because a mom's not got any money today.'" Minich said.
In a Wednesday news conference, Missouri House Democrats pointed out that many of the low-income workers who received the mistaken aid have already spent the money on food, rent and other necessities. They're now facing thousands in debt.
“This is an error of the state. Specifically, the executive branch,” state Rep. Kevin Windham (D-Hillsdale) said.
Windham and other House Democrats say there is $40 million in the state budget allocated to support the state unemployment fund. They claim this money needs to be used to waive the state unemployment overpayments.
When asked by reporters, Gov. Mike Parson said he has to look over the budget before he can decide if it's possible to waive the state unemployment overpayment.
You’re not going to get a blanket waiver," Parson said. "So if anyone is defrauding the system that doesn’t mean we’re going to show you getting off for doing that.”
Nationally, jobless claims increased by 2,000 last week, and layoffs decreased by 900,000 since the beginning of the year, according to reports from the U.S. government.
Nearly 4,000 claims were filed in Missouri last week. The state's unemployment rate for May, the most recent full month available, was just 4.2%.
Nearly 635,000 claims related to COVID-19 have been filed in Missouri since the pandemic started. Those claims have been on the decline since last summer, except for a spike in January -- the height of the pandemic in the U.S.