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Court sides with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson over ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits

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Posted at 1:38 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 14:38:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced in May that he would end federal unemployment programs that were created to help with hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic on June 12, several weeks ahead of the Sept. 6 deadline set by Congress.

Soon after, five Missourians sued him, as well as a few other government officials, to try and get the benefits back in place until the deadline imposed by the federal government.

On Tuesday, a Cole County Circuit Court sided with the governor, and the Attorney General's Office, by denying the plaintiffs' request to halt Parson's order to remove the extra federal benefits.

Judge Jon E. Beetem wrote in his opinion of the case that the plaintiffs did not manage to support their arguments with existing law. He said Parson had legitimate cause to end the extra benefits early.

"The balancing of harms and the public interest strongly favor the Governor's decision to promote economic recovery and encourage workers' re-entry into Missouri's critically understaffed labor force," Beetem wrote in his opinion.

The plaintiffs, who hailed from Washington, St. Louis and Warren St. Clair Counties, detailed various financial hardships in their initial petition. The plaintiffs said they were among an "estimated 147,890 Missourians (who) have lost their Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Benefits prematurely."

The Associated Press had reported different numbers previously. They said that roughly 53,000 Missourians were receiving the federal benefits, including 37,000 people who wouldn't qualify for regular unemployment, such as contractors, farm workers and the self employed.

Parson said in May that the benefits discouraged people from returning to work, since the federal unemployment programs boosted benefits by $300 in some cases.

Locally, cases of restaurants and other businesses struggling to recruit staff during the pandemic have been documented, but others point to low wages and few benefits in those industries, added to the personal risk caused by COVID-19, as the central issue.

Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Carolina also opted to end the federal benefits early.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt supported the governor's reasoning, and he released a statement regarding the case.

“Today’s ruling affirmed the legality of Governor Parson’s decision to terminate these temporary benefits and will hopefully lead to the hiring of workers for businesses that desperately need the help,” Schmitt said.

It is yet to be seen if ending the benefits has helped employers looking to hire.