Missouri Lawsuit Seeks Reinstatement of Jobless Benefits

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawyers for Missouri residents who had their federal unemployment benefits cut when Gov. Mike Parson pulled out of programs in June are asking a court for reinstatement, with back pay.

The Kansas City Star reported that a hearing Monday in Cole County Circuit Court occurred a week before enhanced benefits were set to end for the rest of the nation. The benefits added hundreds of dollars to unemployment checks for Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lawsuit filed earlier this month asked Judge Jon Beetem to rule that Missouri’s early withdrawal was unlawful. Lawyers are trying to get unemployment benefits paid retroactively for the 2 1/2 months.

The amount could be up to $1,500 in federal benefits per person, said attorney Loretta Haggard, representing Missouri Jobs With Justice and five residents who lost benefits in June.

“It ain’t small potatoes for these plaintiffs who are trying to save their house and put food on the table and buy medicines,” Haggard told the judge.

Parson, a Republican, was seeking to prod people to rejoin the workforce, making Missouri among the first states to stop payments from several federal unemployment programs.

The halted programs included an extension of unemployment payments to workers who don’t qualify for the traditional program, such as gig workers; an extension of benefits for regular recipients who have exhausted payments under the state program; and the $300 weekly supplemental payment that was added to recipients’ regular checks.

In June, about 56,000 workers were receiving regular state unemployment benefits, including the $300 supplement, according to a Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokeswoman, and 90,500 were receiving federal enhancements.

On Monday, Haggard argued that by withdrawing from the enhanced programs, Missouri officials had violated state statutes requiring them to maximize federal funds in the unemployment program.

Jesus Osete, Missouri deputy solicitor general, said those requirements apply to the state’s traditional unemployment program, not the federal government’s optional additional pandemic benefits.

Osete said Parson doesn’t want the federal government to dictate labor policy in Missouri.

“He’s duly elected to make those difficult decisions for Missourians, not the plaintiffs,” Osete said.