BY MADISON CZOPEK
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY—Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday that the state is working quickly to guarantee that qualified individuals will soon receive their unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor began issuing $600 federal unemployment supplement payments to residents Monday.
The state faces a historically high number of unemployment claims because of the outbreak of COVID-19, Parson said.
By Tuesday afternoon, Missouri reported 4,686 positive cases of COVID-19, and 133 deaths have been attributed to the virus.
The federal unemployment supplement payments will total $66 million in benefits paid out to more than 115,000 citizens in Missouri, according to Parson.
“Eligible claimants should begin receiving payments within the next few days,” Parson said.
The Department of Labor has hired temporary workers and is using staff across all divisions to help manage the increased work volume and process claims as quickly as possible, Parson said. The department has also increased its online capacity and is working with private vendors to assist its call center.
Many Missourians haven’t received payments yet, but Parson said they would see their benefits soon.
“We’re going to get to you,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got work to do. And we’ve got to get better at it. And I think all of us know that. But we’re going to continue to get better.”
In the midst of nationwide talks about when and how to ease restrictions, Parson indicated that the state would not reopen all at once.
“We’re going to look at Missouri data to figure out how we’re going to make those decisions,” Parson said, adding that he would look at where the cases and hotspots are.
Parson is in constant communication with people around the state regarding how to start the economy back up again. “That’ll probably be more in phases if I was guessing,” he said.
Although Missouri has made strides, Parson cautioned that people could not stop following state restrictions.
“Now is the time to continue social distancing and staying home as much as possible. We will overcome this, but we need everyone to continue making smart choices, being responsible and following the stay home order,” he said.
Parson was also asked if he’d been in talks with Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly about coordinating efforts to reopen the states’ economies, after governors in the Northeast and West Coast formed pacts to evaluate how to reopen.
He said he has talked to governors around the country and that his chief of staff has been in contact with Kelly’s chief of staff, but he emphasized putting Missouri first.
“Missouri’s so diverse and the way we’re set up in this state is totally different than a lot of other states,” Parson said. “So we’re going to approach that from what’s best for the state of Missouri. It’s not so much what every other governor wants to do or trying to become one pact to decide how you do that. I’ve got to take care of Missourians.”
Rural transit grant
Parson announced that Missouri is the first state in the country to receive a federal grant for rural transit as part of national COVID-19 relief efforts.
The Missouri Department of Transportation will receive a $61.7 million grant for rural transit systems. Parson said the grant would provide a necessary boost after many rural systems have had to reduce services due to the pandemic.
“This relief will help keep Missouri’s rural transit systems operating into the future,” Parson said.
Parson said he supports legislators’ decision to return to the Capitol on April 27, which was announced Monday by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.
“I’m glad they’re coming back,” Parson said. “I think they’re essential; I think everybody should have a right to be represented right now with the challenges we face.”
He added that as long as lawmakers abide by the rules and are careful to maintain social distancing and other safety measures, he thought their return to the Capitol would be fine.
Sen. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, on the other hand, was critical of the decision.
“It’s deeply troubling that Republican leaders in the Missouri General Assembly want to bring hundreds of legislators and staff back to the Capitol on April 27, right as Missouri is projected to hit the peak of our coronavirus crisis,” Rizzo wrote in a statement.
He said that Republican and Democratic legislators alike want to return to work, but the return to the Capitol should be to pass a 2021 budget or to pass legislation that will help address the COVID-19 crisis. Rizzo criticized what he described as the Republican leadership’s desire to bring lawmakers back to “pass special interest legislation” that would not help the Missourians who need it most as the effects of the pandemic are realized.
“The Republican proposal to gather everyone together during the worst week of the coronavirus outbreak is the wrong plan at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons,” Rizzo said.