JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Missouri will no longer pay out special federal unemployment benefits created to help workers during the coronavirus pandemic starting next month, Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday.
Parson, speaking at a news conference in the Missouri Capitol, said he has directed the state Department of Labor to end the state's participation in all federal pandemic unemployment benefits effective June 12. Parson said the programs provided "necessary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19" but those benefits are no longer needed and are keeping workers from taking jobs.
"It’s time that we end these programs that have incentivized people to stay out of the workforce," Parson said. "This is an important step to returning to normalcy and strengthening our economy."
Watch a replay of the news conference in the player below.
Republicans in several states have moved to limit federal pandemic unemployment payouts, saying many workers are happy taking the enhanced benefits instead of returning to work. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have pushed back against those assertions, saying the benefits are still needed as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
The benefits ending in Missouri include an extra $300 per week paid to workers claiming unemployment under the American Rescue Plan.
When asked by a reporter whether the state has hard evidence that workers are not taking jobs and instead collecting unemployment, Parson said he has seen "help wanted" signs in business windows across the state.
Missouri's unemployment rate was 4.2% in March, the latest figure available. Parson said Missouri's economic recovery numbers, including the recovery of 70% of jobs lost during the early days of the pandemic, put it in the top tier of states.
About 221,000 jobs are still open statewide, Parson said.
"The solution to close this gap is not the excessive spending of taxpayer dollars by the federal government, but rather getting people back to work and to a sense of normalcy for themselves and their families," Parson said. "Today’s action ensures that we will fill existing jobs as well as the thousands of new jobs coming to our state as businesses continue to invest and expand in Missouri.”
Parson said the decision to end pandemic unemployment benefits ensures Missouri employers can fill existing openings and that companies expanding or setting up shop in Missouri can fill those positions. Parson has touted the state's job growth in recent weeks, including projects that will create hundreds of jobs in Columbia and Eldon.
Minority Leader of the Missouri House of Representative Crystal Quade of Springfield said in a statement the employment crisis is caused by the free market, not extra unemployment benefits.
“Contrary to what the governor claims, the free market – not some federal boogeyman – is primarily responsible for Missouri’s tight labor market. When there are more open jobs than available workers, businesses must increase wages to attract prospective employees, particularly in industries with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure. That’s how supply and demand works. If companies provide a livable wage, applicants will respond. The notion that Missourians are refusing to work so they can temporarily collect $300 a week is an offensive right-wing myth.”Crystal Quade (D - Springfield)
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce expressed it's support for the change, the president Daniel Mehan saying in a statement while the benefits were needed a year ago, the focus needs to be on getting people back to work.
“Right now employers are deeply concerned about their ability to find the workers they need. For months we have sounded the alarm about our state’s growing workforce shortage. Addressing this issue will take a multifaceted approach, and we continue to work on legislation in the capitol that will help Missourians attain the skills they need to thrive in a recovered economy. As we move forward, it is clear that now is the right time to suspend these benefits as we seek to get Missourians back on the job and restore our economy.”Daniel Mehan, President and CEO, Missouri Chamber of Commerce
The Missouri Budget Project and Missouri Jobs for Justice criticized the change, saying in a joint statement ending this program would "punish Missouri families who are already suffering through an economic downturn."
A spokeswoman for the Missouri Budget Project Traci Gleason said these extra dollars have not just been a lifeline for families, but also getting the local economy back on its feet by pumping in extra dollars.
"The economic recovery has been uneven, so looking purely at an unemployment rate or jobs available doesn't really account for the nuances that we see throughout the state," Gleason said.
Gleason said not everyone can get back to work right now for a variety of reasons, and there has also not been an increase in wages, even tho demand for employment skyrocketing.
"This is something we have never seen before, and economic recovery quite like this," Gleason said. "As restaurants shut down, some of those folks took jobs in other sectors that paid more. We have to account for a lot of those nuances in the job market.
Boone County leads Mid-Missouri in coronavirus-related unemployment claims, with more than 16,000 filed during the pandemic. The county's unemployment rate was just 3% in March.
The President of Job Point in Columbia Steve Smith he will be interested to see what impact this has on the market, adding he doesn't believe many people are taking advantage of the program.
"I think it's one step that could help, but I don't think that alone will solve the issue currently," Smith said.
He said while some may be taking their time to find a job, most are actively looking for jobs.
"I think this will cause people to look for jobs in some cases harder to get a job sooner than they would have otherwise, but again, I don't think it will totally solve the number of people looking for jobs versus the number of job openings, because that gap is huge," Smith said.
Watch ABC17 News at 9 and 10 for a full report.