This week, it was announced that Missouri’s unemployment is the lowest it has been in two years, with a rate of 9.1 percent for March. This is good news because it shows signs that our economy is beginning to recover. Regardless of these positive indicators, though, there are still thousands of Missourians struggling to find work. As we take efforts in the Legislature to foster job creation, we must also make sure that hardworking Missourians facing difficult situations have the resources they need to get by until better times. This week, we successfully accomplished this goal, while protecting taxpayers and reducing the financial burden on businesses.
Since March 1, the Senate has been working on House Bill 163, legislation to extend unemployment benefits for Missouri families who have reached or are nearing the 79-week cut-off. Much of the discussion on the bill focused on the fact that the extension requires the state to take in about $105 million in federal money to fund the extension. Ultimately, we were able to reach a compromise that balances fiscal responsibility and the cost of these benefits on businesses with the needs of the unemployed in our state.
The federal government’s debt affects all of us, and it will continue to affect generations of Missourians. The feds have tried their best to spend their way out of this recession, and I haven’t seen much good come out of the billions that have been spent throughout the country. For this reason, members of Senate leadership have agreed to cut $250 million in federal spending on projects out of Missouri’s budget. This move to make sure that we are only spending on the most necessary projects in these tough budget times allowed the bill to come to a vote.
Another aspect of the agreement would reduce the state’s share of initial unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. This change would not affect those currently receiving benefits, but it would make a significant dent in the financial burden of businesses in Missouri. When the state’s unemployment benefits are reduced, the amount of money that businesses pay into state unemployment insurance trust funds is also reduced. Lessening a business’ obligation to pay for unemployment benefits will also encourage companies to reinvest that income in creating new jobs.
The key to the successful passage of this legislation was compromise and balance. For the 10,000 Missourians who have reached the 79-week cut-off, HB 163 is a lifeline that will help them get by for another 20 weeks and continue their search to find a job. The hope is that our economy will continue to improve, allowing these individuals to pursue employment and support their families. At the same time, we can ensure that businesses will have less of a financial obligation towards state-level unemployment benefits, saving the dollars that could be used to reinvest in new jobs. The House passed the Senate version of the bill this week and the governor signed the measure on Wednesday, putting the legislation into effect immediately.