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Federal government rejects Mo. unemployment expansion

By Rachel Lippmann

Jefferson City, MO – The federal government has denied Missouri's request to use $133 million in federal stimulus money to expand unemployment benefits.

The decision announced by the U.S. Department of Labor does not affect the extension granted to 278,000 Missourians who already receive unemployment benefits. But it will prevent the state from using the federal funding to temporarily expand the people eligible for the benefits. Gov. Jay Nixon had signed legislation making people who lose jobs for family reasons, including illness or domestic violence, eligible for the benefits.

The sponsor of that legislation, Republican state Representative Barney Fisher of western Missouri, said he knew the temporary nature of the benefits gave the state a 50/50 chance of receiving federal dollars.

"This $133 million was like bait on a hook," Fisher said. "If you take the very tantalizing bait, well, you still get the hook in your mouth, and after that money was spent, and we had permanently changed out statutes, the people who would pick up the financial responsibility for that expansion of benefits would have been Missouri employers."

Colleen Coble, the chief executive officer of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, was disappointed with the rejection, but has hope for the future.

"We have a Legislature that recognizes the validity of these situations, that we don't want any woman and any family to be in the situation of having to choose between their personal safety and being able to provide for themselves and their family," she said.