Senate bills attempt to change Missouri’s unemployment benefits

(The Center Square) – Three bills introduced by Missouri Republican Senators will change how the unemployed receive benefits and increase oversight of the program.

Sponsors of the three bills testified on Tuesday during a small business and industry committee hearing.

Senate Bill 665, sponsored by Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, modifies the time an individual can receive unemployment benefits by tying it to the Missouri average unemployment rate. The number of weeks one could receive benefits ranges from 20 when the unemployment rate is at least 9% to eight weeks if the unemployment rate is at or below 3.5%. Missouri’s unemployment rate was 3.3% in December, down two-tenths of a percent from November and 1.1 percentage points from December 2020.

Senate Bill 777, sponsored by Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, creates the Employment Security and Job Referrals Act of 2022. If it becomes law, the Division of Employment Security will be required to establish a process where those receiving unemployment compensation will receive information on open positions submitted to employers by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR). If a recipient of unemployment compensation fails to comply with a job referral, the person will be deemed to have failed to participate in reemployment services as required by law.

“These are really good ideas,” Ray McCarty, president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries of Missouri, testified during the hearing. “I don’t know if some of this is being done already, but it doesn’t hurt to formalize it and make sure all of our checks and balances are making sure people who are receiving benefits are those who truly need them.”

Senate Bill 808, sponsored by Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, creates the Getting Missourians Back to Work Act of 2022 and requires the DES to establish a process similar to Senate Bill 777 where those receiving unemployment compensation will get information on open positions from DLIR. It also creates the Employment Security Program Integrity Act of 2022.

“This protects against fraud as it checks certain things that might flag something as being suspicious,” Sen. Koenig said. “It could be you have multiple claims from the same internet address or the same mailing address. If you have multiple claims from the same address or to the same bank account, this is just to check and try to cut down on fraud.”

Sen. Koenig’s legislation requires DES to:

  • utilize data to ensure that only eligible individuals receive employment security benefits;
  • check its records of individuals receiving employment security benefits against the list of incarcerated individuals provided by the Department of Corrections to verify the eligibility of such individuals for employment security benefits;
  • check, on a weekly basis, its employment security rolls against the state death records;
  • check its new-hire records against the National Directory of New Hires to verify eligibility of individuals named in DES’s new-hire records;
  • verify the identity of all unemployment compensation claimants;
  • perform a full eligibility review of any suspicious or potentially improper claims for unemployment compensation;
  • adopt and implement policies to prioritize and pursue the recovery of overpaid unemployment benefits;
  • attempt to recover all overpaid employment security benefits;
  • maintain records of all attempts to recover overpaid benefits.

It requires DES to file an annual report with the general assembly by Dec. 31 with details on the results of its efforts to detect any fraudulent activity. It requires a separate report on its efforts to recover any overpayment of benefits and steps to prevent overpayments.

“Our unemployment systems in every state were never designed for a hard stop like we had in 2020 where everyone went home and we had this massive influx of claims,” James Harris of Opportunity Solutions Project testified during the hearing. “One thing we learned from that is, while the systems were not designed for that, there was a lot of fraud that happened across the country.”

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