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Unemployment legislation held up in Senate

Republicans in the Missouri Senate continued to block legislation Wednesday that would allow the state receive federal money to extend some unemployment benefits.

The legislation must be approved this week for Missouri to receive funding to pay extended benefits to people out of work for more than 79 weeks. Legislation passed last year to continue extended unemployment benefits expires on Thursday. Senators considered the legislation Tuesday and again Wednesday but have not come to a vote.

Sens. Jim Lembke and Rob Schaaf, who are leading opposition to the bill, said they’re concerned that accepting the money would increase the federal debt. Schaaf said Missouri should reject the funding to send a message that the federal government should spend less money.

“Somebody’s got to take a stand,” said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

He also argued that offering the extended jobless benefits encourages people to stay unemployed.

“Rejecting this could be a type of tough love,” he said. “It’ll force them to get back to work.”

The Missouri measure would take effect immediately if Gov. Jay Nixon signs it, though Lembke has proposed delaying the start until August when many state laws take effect. The later effective date would prevent the state from receiving the federal reimbursement.

About 13,000 people will stop receiving their extended unemployment benefits on April 2 if the legislation doesn’t pass, said Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokeswoman Amy Susan.

Missouri could receive about $96 million in reimbursement from the federal government from March to January 2012, she said. The amount would vary based on how many people apply for extended benefits.

The House passed the bill 123-14. Sponsoring Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, said Wednesday that he anticipated some Senate Republicans would oppose the bill because of the federal debt.

but that he had not foreseen Lembke’s attempt to change the effective date. Fisher called that a “killer amendment.”

Fisher said the extended unemployment benefits have helped people during the current economic downturn, many of whom have never been unemployed. He said he disagreed with assertions that the extended unemployment benefits motivate people to remain unemployed.

Fisher said he shared concerns about the federal debt, but questioned why there is not opposition to federal money the state receives for other functions, such as transportation. He questioned why using any federal money would not qualify as “out-of-control spending.”

“If the states have to make a stand, this is a poor time to make a stand,” he said.

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