Missouri's long-term unemployed will lose benefits

JEFFERSON CITY — Thousands of Missourians currently collecting unemployment benefits will be booted off the rolls in coming weeks after the state Senate failed Thursday to approve an extension.

The continuation of benefits for job seekers out of work for more than 79 weeks has been blocked all month by Sen. Jim Lembke, a Republican from St. Louis County, and other fiscal conservatives.

The extended benefits program, which has been in place in Missouri for two years, uses federal funds to provide unemployment benefits up to 99 weeks. It would have funneled about $106 million in federal money to the state’s unemployed beginning in April and running through next January.

Other state and federal unemployment programs provide benefits up to 79 weeks and will remain in place.

But Thursday — the General Assembly’s last work day before a 10-day spring break — was effectively the deadline to pass the bill without an interruption of benefits for those unemployed past 79 weeks.

Because the Senate failed to act, the extended benefits program will expire March 27, and the final checks will go out April 2.

The state Department of Labor estimates 11,700 Missourians were receiving extended benefits in early March, while about 6,500 more were nearing the 79-week cutoff.

About 950 unemployed workers become eligible for the extended benefits each week, according to department officials.

But Lembke and other fiscal hawks argued that the state should reject the federal money and cut off benefits at 79 weeks to protest government spending and large federal deficits.

“We’re saying to Washington, D.C., ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves. You are mortgaging our future,’ ” Lembke said during floor debate earlier this week. “We’re saying, ‘You are putting in jeopardy our republic, shame on you, and we are not going to participate any longer.’ ”

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