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As Missouri Reopens, Rules on Unemployment Benefits Tighten

Missouri’s Department of Labor will reinstate unemployment benefit requirements that were waived during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, including a one-week waiting period and required job-seeking efforts.

(TNS) — Missourians who file for unemployment benefits will be required to search for work again beginning next month.

The Missouri Department of Labor waived the search requirement in March as the state scrambled to respond to massive, pandemic-related job losses.

But beginning the week of July 5, the state will again require unemployment applicants each week to document three "work-search activities," such as filling out a job application or attending a job fair.

State benefits max out at $320 per week; emergency federal benefits add $600 weekly, but expire July 25. State officials also are re-imposing a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, effectively delaying state payments to jobless workers by a week.

And the department said it will once again charge employers for unemployment claims. To encourage stable employment, the state levies different tax rates on companies based on an "experience rate" it calculates using the number of unemployment claims filed by that firm's workers. It had waived those charges in March as companies shed workers by the tens of thousands.

To avoid the experience rate charges, Missouri Department of Labor officials encouraged employers to report workers who refuse to return to work — making them ineligible for unemployment benefits. The state also has a new online portal so employers can report wages paid via the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which some companies may have joined after laid-off employees had already applied for unemployment.

The state's unemployment payments come out of a trust fund filled by unemployment taxes. In the Great Recession, it eventually ran dry, forcing the state to borrow from the federal government to shore it up. At the beginning of the year, it stood at just more than $1 billion. By April 30, it was only down to $923 billion.

Monday's announcement comes even as Republican Gov. Mike Parson lifts restrictions meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The department of labor did not respond to a request for information about its decision.

The minority leader in the Senate slammed the announcement, saying coronavirus cases continue to climb, resulting in the downsizing of factories, restaurants and other businesses.

"The Department of Labor should not be making it harder for people to get the help they need during a crisis that is far from over," said Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence. "I implore Gov. Parson to do the right thing and put a stop to this harmful plan."

Jobless claims continued to trend lower last week, though the nearly 20,000 applications remained at levels last seen during the Great Recession.

The number of people on Missouri's regular unemployment rolls — those approved and continuing to claim weekly benefits — fell to 230,000 for the week ending May 30, down 12,000 from the week before.

Missourians claiming benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal program that makes sole proprietors and others eligible for unemployment benefits, fell to 68,000 the week ending May 23, down from almost 84,000 the week before. Regular unemployment and the pandemic assistance are counted separately in Missouri.

But job losses continue to mount. Two casinos in St. Louis County, both owned by Penn National Gaming, will lay off more than 750 employees in August, according to filings with the state.

©2020 Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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