Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

As Missouri's Unemployment Claims Rise, Democratic Lawmakers Ask the State to Waive Rules Coronavirus Outbreak

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

As Missouri's Unemployment Claims Rise, Democratic Lawmakers Ask the State to Waive Rules Coronavirus Outbreak

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY -- Democratic lawmakers are calling for Missouri to waive rules on unemployment benefits, but Gov. Mike Parson's administration is mum for now on whether this will happen.

This comes as jobless claims are spiking across the U.S., driven by efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Restaurants and bars are being forced to lay off or furlough staff as they switch to takeout and delivery only -- or close entirely.

Last week, unemployment claims in Missouri rose to 3,822 from 2,994 the previous week, an increase of 27%. The number of claims the state received in the past few days was not immediately available.

Meanwhile, Illinois reported Thursday that it is receiving 10 times more claims than last year. From Monday to Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Employment Security received more than 64,000 unemployment benefit claims. During the same period last year, they got 6,074, spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco said.

The U.S. Department of Labor released numbers Thursday showing this is a national trend. Initial unemployment claims across the country were up 70,000 last week to 281,000 -- a 33% increase from the previous week.

The jump is "clearly attributable to impacts from the COVID-19 virus," according to the Labor Department.

Economists who track state-level data are also saying new applications for unemployment could top a record 1.5 million next week, according to Reuters.

"I think we all hope that this is a very temporary situation but unfortunately it's going to be very painful," said former state Sen. Jacob Hummel of St. Louis, who is secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO. "I don't think anybody expected it to hit this hard and this fast."

On Wednesday, Parson issued an executive order allowing state agencies to waive regulations and laws that interfere with Missouri's response to the coronavirus. This includes the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which oversees unemployment benefits.

Parson made no commitment Thursday to expediting unemployment benefits or extending the current cap on benefits. But he said talks were underway with all directors on issues like unemployment.

"We realize that's going to be a big issue," Parson said.

MISSOURI'S RULES

Missouri limits how long a person can get unemployment benefits to 20 weeks a year. Most states allow 26 weeks.

"Missouri's laws around unemployment benefits are not good," said Rep. …

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