Missouri Following Michigan's Example On Cutting Unemployment Benefits


Missouri is set to become the second state to preserve its eligibility for federal unemployment insurance while at the same time reducing state benefits for new layoff victims.

Four Republicans in the Missouri State Senate had been filibustering a bill to allow laid off Missourians to continue receiving aid under the federal Extended Benefits program, which provides the final 20 weeks of pay for those who exhaust 53 weeks of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation and 26 weeks of state benefits.

In exchange for cutting state benefits down to 20 weeks, those Republicans have relented. It's the same tradeoff Michigan lawmakers used in March, when Michigan became the first state in the country to cut the standard 26 weeks of state benefits. The filibustering Missouri Republicans also secured a pledge from their leadership to try to eliminate $250 million in federal stimulus spending allocated for the state.

The National Employment Law Project warned in March that other states would follow Michigan's example. In Missouri, they were right.

"We saw a New York Times article on the vote in Michigan," Farrah Fite, a spokeswoman for Missouri Senate Republicans, told HuffPost on Monday. "That's where the initial idea came from."

There are some differences between the two state proposals. While the cut to state benefits will not affect laid off Michiganders until 2012, Fite said the Missouri cuts will take effect immediately.

Fite said she expects the legislation will emerge from a committee on Monday afternoon and could swiftly pass both chambers of the General Assembly and land on Gov. Jay Nixon's desk this week.

Jordan Yount, a spokesman for Missouri Senate Democrats, told HuffPost the bill might not pass so swiftly. "It's not a done deal," Yount said. "It's got to go through the House. It's got to be signed by the governor. Neither of these are guaranteed. I don't know if the House is going to want to go along with this."

Nixon's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from HuffPost, nor did a spokesperson for House Speaker Steven Tilley (R).

The National Employment Law Project told HuffPost that cuts to state benefits will also reduce compensation under the federal programs, which provide benefits based on a state's unemployment rate and also the number of weeks of state benefits a layoff victim has been granted. The combined loss of state and federal benefits, according to NELP, amounts to 21.4 weeks.

Fite said the possible impact on federal benefits had not been discussed during debate on the bill.

"What the Missouri Senate is doing is the result of a cynically orchestrated maneuver," said NELP's Mitchell Hirsch. "It is both shameful and reckless for the Missouri Senate to act to appease four senators who'd been holding extended unemployment benefits hostage by undermining the state's unemployment insurance program and putting more Missouri jobs at risk."

The Extended Benefits program is set to expire in several states over the next few months.

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