A $300 federal unemployment supplement expected to last to the end of the year is exhausted.

Missourians who make weekly claims for full or partial benefits received the supplement for the week ending last Saturday, but that was their first and only payment except for retroactive benefits.

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which manages the state's unemployment compensation program, touted the state's speed in accessing the funds in two news releases on Aug. 24 and Aug. 26. The first public notice that no additional payments would be made was an update to the department's questions-and-answers about unemployment during the pandemic.

The department issued a news release shortly before noon on Friday notifying the public that the money is gone. The release stated that the department had received notice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that the federal fund supporting it had been used.

The notice came in a conference call Wednesday between FEMA and state agencies that there was no money for additional payments after the week ending Sept. 5, spokeswoman Delores Rose wrote in an email.

The department should have realized there was only enough money to pay retroactive benefits to Aug. 1 and one week of current benefits when it implemented the program, state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said.

“That six-week time period was never properly communicated, not just to Missouri but across the country,” Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said. “This is the first I am hearing of the possibility of funds being exhausted so quickly.”

BREAKING: Missouri's $300/wk federal unemployment supplement has been exhausted.

The Dept of Labor needs to explain why this wasn't properly communicated. This is very problematic for families. #moleg
Scoop by Rudi Keller - @CDTCivilWarhttps://t.co/zAnAf9llWq

— Kip Kendrick (@Kip_Kendrick) September 11, 2020

In the Aug. 26 release, the department stated it had received a $200 million grant for the program and more than 100,000 people receiving weekly unemployment checks. Anyone receiving a benefit of at least $100 from the state was eligible for the $300 supplement.

The grant was enough for 111,000 payments of $300 each for six weeks, starting benefits for the week ending Aug. 1.

The supplement was authorized by an executive order signed Aug. 8 by President Donald Trump after a $600 pandemic unemployment supplement program ended on July 31. The program was funded by a $44 billion disaster relief fund under the management of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the Aug. 26 news release, the department stated the program would end Dec. 27 unless FEMA spent the $44 billion fund, the fund’s unobligated balance fell below $25 billion or other federal legislation was passed authorizing a supplement from other funding sources.

In an email, Rose pointed to that notice to defend the department’s communications about the program.

“Both the depletion rate and FEMA (Disaster Relief Fund) balance are not under the control of the Missouri Department of Labor, and the department would not have been able to estimate when the federal FEMA DRF fund would trigger the end of the LWA program,” Rose wrote.

Instead of obscuring the possibility of the program ending early, the department should have made it clear that funding immediately available would not support the program through the fall, Kendrick said.

“It should have been communicated that an end date was coming,” Kendrick said. “It shouldn't have been left up to individuals across the state to do the math about how many people may be applying and how it would affect the grant.”

Families made spending decisions based on their expected income, Kendrick said, whether it was to sign a lease or purchase school supplies.

“It caught me by surprise,” he said. “I can only imagine how infuriating it will be to all Missourians, especially those receiving the benefit.”

The most recent unemployment data for the state, for July, showed that a little over 211,000 people were out of work, 6.9 percent of the workforce. The next state unemployment report, for August, is due next Friday.

Unemployment peaked in Missouri in April at 10.3 percent, when there were about 308,500 people out of work.

The CARES Act, passed in March, added $600 to unemployment benefits from March 27 to July 31. Since then, Congress has been deadlocked over the elements and price of a subsequent relief measure.

The most recent effort was defeated Thursday when the Senate was unable to break a filibuster on a $300 billion proposal that included money for an unemployment supplement, funding for schools and business liability protections.

Perhaps it was misplaced confidence that Congress would act that led the state labor department to not make the looming end of the program more visible, Kendrick said.

“It is possible there were assumptions that Congress would have reached some type of agreement on an extension,” Kendrick said. “It appears now that is dead until after the election.”

State lawmakers will gather Wednesday in Jefferson City for the annual veto session and to continue the special session called by Gov. Mike Parson.

“I am going to put out a call to the department of labor and House Appropriations to find out what went wrong,” Kendrick said. “And I am going to reach out to our U.S. Senators and Congresswoman to encourage action on this.”

rkeller@columbiatribune.com

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