Senator suggests bill that would trim unemployment benefits

January 29, 2023


missouri news network

Jan. 25, 2023

A bill that would modify the duration of unemployment benefits in the state got a hearing Wednesday with the Senate General Laws Committee.

Currently, the maximum duration a Missouri resident can receive unemployment benefits is 20 weeks, regardless of other factors. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, SB 21 would tie the maximum duration to the state’s unemployment rate.

This means that as the state’s unemployment rate falls, the maximum amount of time a person would be eligible to receive benefits would fall as well. The duration could fall to as few as eight weeks if the state unemployment rate is at or below 3.5%.

“Local businesses are reporting that only one or two employees are showing up for work, or that workers will only work a day or two before going back on unemployment (benefits),” Bernskoetter said.

Heidi Geisbuhler Sutherland, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and industry director of legislative affairs, echoed Bernskoetter, saying that today’s labor shortages create a need to pass the bill.

“When jobs are scarce, Missourians would receive the full 20 weeks of unemployment. But when jobs are plentiful like right now, the benefits would end much sooner, encouraging Missourians to re-enter the workforce,” she said.

One of Republicans’ top goals this session is to combat childcare shortages, and cutting unemployment benefits caused concerns for Democrats in that regard.

Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said that previously added regulations for home care providers are part of what’s led to the labor shortage that SB 21 intends to combat.

When Beck asked Geisbuhler Sutherland if she thought unemployment benefits were a bigger issue for people entering the workforce than child care, she said they were not.

“There are certainly bigger issues like child care, like public safety ... Those things are very, very high on our list, but I think this is also part of the puzzle,” she said.

In response to concerns of people abusing the unemployment system, former Sen. Jacob Hummel, who represented the Missouri AFL-CIO, said these benefits support people who have been laid off — a practice that is expected to continue.

“If we continue to have record low unemployment like we do now, (people) are still going to be laid off,” Hummel said.

He added that eight weeks may not be enough time for people to get back on their feet.

“It takes two to three months to get hired by a company, and these benefits run out. I’m just looking at the effect it has on our families,” he said.

Brattin suggested that employees pay into the unemployment insurance program to act as a deterrent for participating in the program.

“(This is) skin in the game for the worker ... it’s not just the employer that’s having to pay these benefits and continually pay into the unemployment system,” he said.