JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KTVI) – Missouri Republicans are trying to shorten the amount of time workers can collect unemployment benefits to one of the shortest terms in the country.
The proposal from Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, would shorten Missouri’s unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to as few as 13 weeks. The term would be tied to the state’s unemployment rate.
Today, with unemployment in the state at about 4.5 percent, the term would be 13 weeks. It would go back up to 20 weeks if the state experienced another recession with unemployment approaching double-digit percentages.
“When we had really long periods of unemployment being paid, we had people who would frankly not take jobs because it was much easier to just sit on the couch and collect their unemployment,” said Ray McCarty, President of the Associated Industries of Missouri.
Republicans and business leaders say recessions drain the state’s unemployment fund.
In the last recession, Missouri had to borrow about $1 billion from the federal government to continue paying benefits. The state’s employers had to pay an automatic tax increase to repay that loan.
The bill would also eliminate a loophole — some workers in the state are double dipping by collecting a severance package and unemployment benefits.
Democrats are fighting the proposal, saying three months may not be long enough.
“Adding that seven weeks, almost two months more, to make sure people can keep food on the table, pay their bills and take care of themselves and their families while they retrain or look for a new job, I think that’s important,” said Sen. Jill Schuup, D-Creve Coeur.
The legislature passed a similar bill in 2015, but it was thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court for procedural reasons.
Many states allow workers to collect unemployment for at least 25 weeks.
The bill has passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate.