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Missourians struggle to keep 'head above water' amid end of federal unemployment benefits

Judge strikes down case to implement backpay
Kimberly Newby-Dorsey .png
Posted at 10:44 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 23:44:22-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thousands of Missourians were kicked off of federal unemployment benefits in June when Gov. Mike Parson wanted to end the program, hoping to get more people back to work. Since then, many people who relied on that money are struggling to make ends meet.

"Instead of being comfortable where we should have been, now we’re struggling to keep our head above water," said Kimberly Newby-Dorsey, of Kearney, who has been unemployed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bills are piling up for Newby-Dorsey, and she just received a shut-off notice from the water company.

"Not only can I not pay it, but I’m negative almost $40 in my bank account because I had to fill up my car with gas so I could take my son with a broken leg to his doctor appointments weekly," she said.

That extra $300 per week from the federal program paid for a variety of necessities – "It goes for gas, it goes for school supplies, clothes, because my kids are growing like weeds," she said.

Newby-Dorsey's story, along with many others, helped launch a lawsuit from Missouri Jobs with Justice fighting to get back pay to these families until the program for all states ends Sept. 6.

Five Missourians sued Gov. Mike Parson, alleging that his premature termination of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Benefit programs violated a mandate to administer the program.

The unidentified plaintiffs requested a temporary restraining order that would require the state of Missouri to rescind its termination of participation in the programs, however a Cole County Court judge dismissed the case.

"There are people who have health conditions, either their own or their immediate family, that make returning to work dangerous," said Richard von Glahn, policy director with Missouri Jobs with Justice.

Von Glahn said he took issue with Parson's claim that this was about getting people back to work.

"This is not about supporting families getting back to work, getting the economy back going again, you don’t block money from your economy if that’s what you’re trying to do," von Glahn said.

Parson said in a statement on the ruling that the decision to withdraw from the federal program was "a matter of policy."

"We appreciate the court recognizing that fact and our administration’s authority to address these workforce issues," he said. "Restarting extended federal unemployment benefits and the excessive expenditure of taxpayer dollars would have been detrimental to the progress we have made to get folks back to work. While businesses across Missouri are still facing workforce shortages, they have expressed how our move to end these benefits – that were intended to be temporary – has helped employ and retain new workers. To get back to normal, we have to get back to work, and in this state, we are doing just that."

Missouri was one of the first states to end the federal benefits.

Missouri Jobs with Justice is still evaluating what options they have in court. Meanwhile, the group said with the American Rescue Plan, cities can distribute money to residents for assistance, so the next best thing they urge people to do is to contact local elected officials.