Missouri swamped by unemployment claims as cases exceed 500
AP

Missouri swamped by unemployment claims as cases exceed 500

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — President Donald Trump has approved Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's request for federal disaster declaration, the governor's office announced Thursday.

Trump's decision means the state, local governments and nonprofits will receive some federal help to recover costs associated with the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Parson sought the federal declaration on Tuesday. His request for federal assistance for crisis counseling, unemployment assistance and disposal for hazardous waste related to the outbreak are still pending.

“I appreciate the President acting quickly on my disaster declaration request and the commitment of federal resources as we battle this unprecedented public health and economic threat to Missourians,” Parson said in a news release.

The announcement came on the same day Missouri saw large increases in confirmed cases and unemployment claims.

Missouri health officials said confirmed cases jumped Thursday to 502 cases, up from 356 on Wednesday. There have been eight reported deaths in the state.

The state saw a more than 900% increase in unemployment benefits. Federal unemployment data released Thursday showed 40,508 Missourians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 21, compared to 4,016 the previous week. That came as a record number of people across the U.S. applied for unemployment benefits last week because of layoffs caused by the pandemic.

Restaurant cook Kathryn Lickteig, of Kansas City, on Wednesday was approved for state unemployment compensation after the city shut down dine-in restaurants.

She learned Thursday that legislation passed by the U.S. Senate would add an extra $600 weekly for people who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. The extra money would mean she can ride out the restaurant shutdown instead of looking for an interim job.

“It has eased my mind so much," she said. “I do not have to actively go out and expose myself to the public and possibly get sick. I can stay home now and do my part in social distancing.”

A union representing health care workers in Missouri asked Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday to enact such policies as employer paid health care, 15 days of paid sick leave, hazard pay and ensuring adequate personal safety equipment for health care workers.

SEIU Healthcare also asked Parson to enact a statewide stay-at-home order, which he has so far refused to do, saying it would severely damage the state's economy.

Parson's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

During a livestreamed address Thursday, Parson said his administration is identifying sites across the state that can be used for extra hospital beds. He said the state is still rationing COVID-19 tests because of a nationwide shortage of kits.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Also Thursday, advocacy groups including ArchCity Defenders and the Missouri ACLU sent a letter asking the state Supreme Court to direct jails to release prisoners to slow the spread of the virus, as authorities in St. Louis and St. Louis County are preparing to do, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Saint Louis University Director of Community Medicine Dr. Fred Rottnek in the letter described an outbreak in jails and prisons as a “public health nightmare.”

In Kansas City, tents were set up east of downtown to ensure the homeless continue to receive services during the pandemic.

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Ballentine reported from Columbia, Missouri.

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