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Missouri House approves bill to forgive federal, but not state, unemployment overpayments

Missouri House approves bill to forgive federal, but not state, unemployment overpayments

Debating on forgiving unemployment overpayments

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, sponsor of HB 1083, argued against addressing forgiveness of the state portion of unemployment compensation overpayments. (screengrab)

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal to forgive the federal portion of unemployment overpayments was approved by the House on Thursday and will be sent to the Senate for further debate.

The House, however, failed to adopt an emergency clause that would have put the bill into effect immediately if it is approved by the Senate and Gov. Mike Parson.

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, said the bipartisan proposal would keep an average of $668,000 in each House district.

The legislation, which passed by a vote of 157-3, addresses the approximately 46,000 Missourians who received unemployment benefits in error and have been told by the state to return the money.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, said legislators have been “receiving tons of emails and phone calls and concerns from constituents” who are being asked to pay back money they don’t have.

“They were encouraged to apply by not only their employer but the state of Missouri and the feds,” Taylor said.

The majority of the money came from the federal government but as much as 25% came from the state. The proposal would forgive only the federal portion, which is already allowed under federal legislation.

The Parson administration has resisted forgiving the overpayments, but legislators said Thursday that the governor now supports the proposal.

Several legislators urged the Senate to also forgive the state portion of the repayments.

“The same people that could not afford the $5,000 are not going to be able to afford the $800 bill,” said Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis.

Eggleston and Taylor have argued forgiving the state portion could hurt businesses since the payments came from the insurance trust fund that businesses pay into.

“The very simple reality is that is easy to fix,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. Parson has already appropriated CARES Act funding to go into the unemployment trust fund that exceeds the amount the fund could lose from forgiving overpayments, he said.

Merideth added that a Republican senator has already sponsored legislation to forgive the state portion.

At least one House Republican is open to forgiving the state portions.

“If this bill were to come back from the Senate with the state portion included and we were able to fund that with CARES Act funding as opposed to it hurting the integrity of the unemployment trust system within the state then that is something that I personally would be in favor of,” said Rep. Scott Cupps, R-Shell Knob.

Eggleston asked the House to reject the bill’s emergency clause at the request of the Parson administration, which has said it will take time to prepare paperwork and processes needed to grant the case-by-case waivers required by the proposal.

While Eggleston was initially skeptical, he said the administration has “agreed to call off the dogs.”

An email he received said the Department of Labor is already “working to pause the collections process as you requested.”

Merideth, who has emphasized that the governor could forgive the overpayments without action from the Legislature, said the bill was “pointless” without an emergency clause.

“If we take this emergency clause off of this, we aren’t making (Parson) do anything. It’s back in his power to decide whatever the hell he wants to do. And he’s already shown us what he wants to do: collect this money back.”

Senate leaders support the House’s efforts.

“The state kind of screwed it up,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said the state should forgo trying to get the money back.

“Once that horse has left the barn it’s hard to get it back,” Schatz said.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said it’s time for the state to move on.

“The state made the mistake. We should absolutely just stop trying to recoup the dollars,” Rizzo said.

The legislation is House Bill 1083.

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