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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Missouri Joins Other Red States In Ending Participation In COVID-19 Unemployment Program

Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, that Missouri will end participation in federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits in June.
Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, that Missouri will end participation in federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits in June.

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday that Missouri will end participation in a federal program providing an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits.

Other GOP-led states have made similar moves in recent weeks, contending that the benefit is incentivizing people not to work — and in turn causing labor shortages at places like restaurants.

During a press conference at the Capitol, Parson said that on June 12 Missouri will no longer participate in six pandemic-related unemployment programs run by the federal government. They've allowed unemployed workers to collect $300 a week in addition to whatever benefits they receive from the state.

Parson said the federal unemployment benefit is providing a disincentive for people to go back to work.

“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.”

Montana and South Carolina are among the Republican-led states that have announced plans to no longer provide the federal unemployment relief. According to widespread reports, restaurants and other businesses are struggling to find workers.

Parson said that while the benefits were helpful to people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, they weren’t meant to last forever.

“Continuing these programs only worsens the workforce issues we’re currently facing,” Parson said.

Parson’s announcement brought about condemnation from U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, who has strongly supported the unemployment benefits that were in the American Rescue Plan. She said Parson’s announcement “is yet another massive failure that will put the lives and livelihoods of regular, everyday people at risk.”

“I know what it’s like to work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week and still not have enough to live,” Bush said. “My story is not unique; it’s one shared by thousands across our state. We cannot blame federal unemployment benefits for worker shortages. The only way our economy, our region and our country can heal from this pandemic is by treating workers with the respect and dignity they deserve, and that begins by paying them a living wage.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones also slammed the decision in a tweet, stating that “stripping unemployment benefits just to force Missourians into jobs without a living wage or benefits will only increase the burden of poverty on our working families.”

“Want to get people back to work? Pay them a minimum of $15/hr,” Jones wrote.

Parson said he doesn’t agree with the contention that workers aren’t returning to places like restaurants because they want to find jobs with higher pay than they had before the pandemic started.

“As the business arena comes back, I think you’re seeing more and more employers knowing that they’re going to have to pay more money to get employees back in,” Parson said. “Where somebody decides to go to work is totally up to the individuals. But I think the reality is the market itself is going to set the wages in the state of Missouri, and we see that growing every day too.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio