Missouri Halts Extension of Pay for Unemployed

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The New York Times
By: A. G. Sulzberger
March 31, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Citing concerns about the national debt, a handful of conservative state legislators have blocked a vote to accept federal money to extend unemployment benefits, effectively cutting financial assistance for more than 10,000 out-of-work residents next week.

The move, which came despite widespread bipartisan support for extending the benefits, puts Missouri at the center of a growing national discussion about reining in unemployment benefits at a time when both the job market and government coffers remain weakened.

In recent weeks, Republican leaders in Michigan, Arkansas and Florida have taken steps to limit their states' contributions by cutting the duration of unemployment benefits.

But for now Missouri, with an unemployment rate above 9 percent, is the only state that has stopped accepting dedicated federal money to extend payments to 99 weeks from 79. (A number of states never joined when the program was initially offered.)

"This is about sending a message to the federal government from the state of Missouri that enough is enough," said Jim Lembke, the state senator who, with three other Republicans, is filibustering the legislation. "The federal government is sending us money they don't have."

Mr. Lembke said he also plans to block a vote needed to accept nearly $190 million in federal education money.

The reauthorization legislation, which was supported by the leadership of both parties, passed by a wide majority in the House and had been expected to pass easily in the Senate, where a similar extension passed unanimously last year. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. The legislation is supported by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

But senators so far have decided against using a rarely invoked procedure to end debate. The chamber adjourned Thursday without voting on the matter, missing a deadline required for the payments to continue uninterrupted.

"This is the angriest I've ever been," said Jolie Justus, a Democratic senator who gave an emotional speech in favor of extending benefits. "To tell these thousands of people that they have to get off their backsides and get a job is so out of touch with what's going on in Missouri right now."

In addition to those whose payments will stop immediately, the Missouri Department of Labor estimated that another 24,000 people would be affected by the end of the year -- totaling $105 million in lost payments.

Senators were still discussing the possibility that a deal could be worked out, either through compromise or by forcing a vote.

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on April 1, 2011 3:41 PM.

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