Missouri politicians doubling down on the most vulnerable workers

Missouri politicians doubling down on the most vulnerable workers

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As Missourians struggle to go to work and school safely, a handful of Jefferson City politicians continue to focus their energy on their own ambitions and special interests. They are actively working against Missouri families with efforts to drastically reduce unemployment benefits and repeal Medicaid expansion, which a majority of voters passed in 2019. Thousands of Missourians, particularly the most vulnerable, still rely on unemployment benefits — and even more of those working are newly eligible for critical Medicaid benefits.

HB 1860 and SB 665 (a bill once vetoed by Governor Nixon and filed every year since 2015) would drastically reduce the duration of unemployment benefits from 20 to as low as eight weeks based on our current unemployment rate. It is encouraging that so many in Missouri have been able to get back to work after a pandemic that has taken an enormous toll; however, thousands across the state are still struggling to find work to support their families.

In addition to preventing families from slipping into poverty due to job loss, part of the point of unemployment insurance is to allow people the time to get job training skills if needed to find quality jobs. If passed, Missouri’s already significantly short eligibility time frame would become the shortest in the country. Missouri will be one of the worst states to be an unemployed worker. The harms of HB 1860 and SB 665 will be primarily felt by Missouri’s factory workers, carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and other skilled workers. Industries most impacted by weather, supply chain issues or production slowdowns. And cutting time for additional training reduces the pool of skilled workers that Missouri needs.

In the meantime, some politicians are still trying to block funding for Medicaid expansion, and some elected officials are even pushing for a full-blown repeal with HJR 117. This would be devastating for newly-enrolled Missouri workers who have benefited from crucial access to essential health care services. Further, we all have to pay the cost of uncompensated care through higher premiums and copays. Medicaid expansion increases access to care and financial security, improves health outcomes, and can reduce health disparities among our state’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations — including low-wage workers.

And it can be a powerful tool in combating poverty-reducing household debt, improving credit, and increasing access to preventative and needed care that is often less costly to hospital systems and households than delayed or avoided care. It is also good for Missouri’s economy. According to the Missouri Foundation for Health position and implementation statement, expansion will also “simplify our state’s Medicaid program, creating a more cost-effective system that will allow federal dollars to replace state funds, saving Missouri $39 million in the first year of expansion.”

We need representatives that work to support the people of Missouri, not tear them down or leave them struggling to survive. And we must make it perfectly clear, as we have had to do repeatedly, that when voters pass new initiatives, we mean it, whether our legislators like it or not.

David L. Derossett and Christina Ryder, CSP

Workers’ Rights Board leaders