Missouri May Reject Extending Jobless Benefits

The state Legislature is considering turning down money from the federal government to extend benefits for Missouri's unemployed. Republicans say they don't want to add to the federal budget deficit.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Thousands of jobless people in Missouri are set to lose extended federal unemployment benefits unless state lawmakers take action. But as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, some want the state to turn down the money.

TAMARA KEITH: The bill, now awaiting approval in the Missouri State Senate, is basically a minor technical fix to keep federal funds flowing to the very long-term unemployed. These are people who've been out of work for between 79 weeks and 99 weeks. If the bill isn't approved, unemployment checks to some 13,000 people will be cut off April 2nd. Another 10,000 people would lose benefits within weeks.

Mr. GEORGE WENTWORTH (Attorney, National Employment Law Project): It seems to us like a very easy policy choice.

KEITH: George Wentworth is a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project.

MR. WENTWORTH: I don't see any good reason why you would cut off unemployment benefits that are federally funded at this time in the economy.

KEITH: Some Republicans in the State Senate argue there are several good reasons to turn away the federal money.

Jim Lembke, who is leading the charge, says just look at the huge federal budget deficit.

State Senator JIM LEMBKE (Republican, Missouri): It's not that I don't have compassion for people that do not have jobs. It is that we have a federal government that is out of control, and the states need to start saying to the federal government: Quit sending us money that you do not have.

KEITH: Lembke also says extended unemployment benefits make people unmotivated to find work. He's already filibustered the bill, and says he'll do it again if it's brought back up.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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