Nixon urges Senate to help jobless, schools

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday called on the state Senate to approve legislation next week that would allow hundreds of millions of federal dollars to go to the state’s unemployed workers and public schools.

Several Republican senators have stalled votes on bills authorizing the use of an estimated $105 million from a federal program that would extend unemployment benefits and $189 million of federal stimulus money for schools. The senators say they’re taking a stand against federal spending that is driving up the national debt.

The Senate was not in session on Friday. Missouri’s eligibility ends Saturday for a federal program that provides an additional 20 weeks of jobless benefits to people who have been out of work for a year and a half.

Acknowledging that there was no way to avoid a break in unemployment benefits, Nixon nonetheless called on senators to approve the extension when they return to work next week. He said the state could provide the benefits retroactively.

Nixon, a Democrat, said the Senate standstill will hurt the unemployed who need money for groceries, medicine and fuel for their cars.

“It becomes a very real matter for families across the state tomorrow,” he said. “Missouri’s unemployed deserve their fair share.”

The state labor department estimates about 10,000 people will be cut off the extended unemployment benefits program after Saturday. About 24,000 will miss out on benefits over the next nine months if the legislation is not renewed, the department says.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, one of the four senators involved in the filibuster, said later Friday that he and the others would not drop their effort despite the governor’s request.

“It’s easier for him (Nixon) than it is for me to spend other people’s money,” said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

He said stopping unemployment benefits would encourage people to get jobs. He said the four senators were right in preventing a vote by the full chamber.

“That’s what senators do when they want to stop bad things,” he said. “What’s not fair is to expect your fellow citizens to pay your way when you’ve been out of work for a year and a half.”

At least one Republican senator has expressed displeasure with the delay on the unemployment bill. Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, said lawmakers will see more complaints about the delay when unemployment benefits stop coming for some of their constituents.

He said Senate Republicans are continuing “aggressive” efforts to persuade their colleagues to drop the filibuster.

“It is truly regrettable that four members have prevented this from coming to a vote,” Goodman told The Associated Press on Friday before Nixon spoke.

Two counties in Goodman’s district, Taney and Stone, reported the highest unemployment rates in the state in February at 22 percent and 19.9 percent, respectively.

The governor also implored senators to approve the education funding bill, which provides districts money for the part of the current school year and also will allow additional money to go to schools next academic year.

Nixon called the bill’s delay “serious” and said denying it would force districts to suddenly cut hundreds of thousands of dollars of planned spending in the middle of a school year.

“This simply isn’t fair to our teachers or our kids,” he said. “Rejecting these funds would have an immediate and harmful effect on schools across the state.”

An estimate released Friday by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said schools will lose $36.4 million for the current school year if the bill is not passed and an additional $153.3 million in the next school year.

Both bills had passed the House with broad support earlier this year.

The Senate does have parliamentary procedures to cut off debate and force a vote on both measures, but according to Senate staff, such procedures have not been used since 2007. Senate leaders have not yet indicated that they will do so for either bill. Nixon did not call on them Friday to do so when they reconvene.

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