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Bill would let Missourians keep unemployment overpayments

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missourians wouldn’t have to repay millions of dollars in federal unemployment benefit overpayments under legislation advanced in the GOP-led state House on Monday.

At issue are mistakes by the state’s Labor Department as it was struggling to quickly handle a huge influx of unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency ended up doling out $146 million in unemployment aid to 46,000 Missourians who didn’t qualify. Now Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is trying to get those overpayments back.

Bill sponsor Rep. J. Eggleston, a Republican, said many of the workers who got the federal aid had spent already spent it on rent, mortgage payments, utilities and other needs and didn’t have the money to repay the government.

“What the financial recipients thought was a lifeline of survival has now become an anchor of debt,” he said.

The House bill, given initial approval in a voice vote, would stop the state from collecting federal unemployment overpayments.

The measure would give amnesty only to people who applied for unemployment help in good faith and received it because of a mistake by the state Labor Department. People who committed fraud to get assistance would still have to pay the federal funding back.

Missourians still would be on the hook to repay unemployment aid they received from the state under the legislation.

Eggleston said an estimated 75 percent of the $146 million in overpayments was federal, but legislative analyses don’t include a detailed breakdown of the state-federal split on the money.

A proposal to exempt workers from repaying the state for mistaken overpayments as well was shot down 95-53.

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