Missouri governor says unemployment benefits paid in error must be returned

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson at a bill signing in St. Louis in October 2020 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office).

Missourians who were mistakenly paid unemployment benefits by the state should be required to pay that money back, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday.

The Missouri Department of Labor told St. Louis Public Radio last week that the state overpaid roughly $96 million in unemployment benefits between January and September last year. The errors were driven by a deluge of unemployment applications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as federal emergency programs that extended benefits to workers who were previously ineligible.

Parson was asked about the situation during a Q&A as part of the annual Missouri Press Association Day at the Capitol. He said anyone who received unemployment payments in error should “most certainly” be required to return them.

“Some people did try to defraud the system. We know that. To give them a free pass when they intentionally did that is one thing,” Parson said. “For the people who just made a mistake, you know, it’s just life in general. If you got more money than you should, you should have an obligation to pay it back. Because you’re taking it away from someone else. I know it’s easy to say it’s government money, but the reality is it needs to go somewhere else that needs it.”

Some lawmakers have expressed concern about forcing Missourians to repay these benefits, in many instances months after they’ve been doled out and because of mistakes in the process.

Asked recently about the issue, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he doesn’t believe the money will be recouped by the state.

“If it’s what we think it looks like,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the state’s probably going to have to eat it.”

Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, tweeted Thursday afternoon that he strongly disagrees with the governor’s position.

“People applied for benefits using the process asked of them,” he said. “It isn’t their fault (Missouri) screwed up and approved them in error. Outside of fraud cases, asking people to return thousands of dollars *months* later is just wrong.”

Parson said during the Thursday morning Q&A that it’s important to get that money back.

“If you fraudulently abused the system, you should be accountable for that,” he said. “If you made a mistake and got paid too much, you should pay it back.”

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