Mo. to quit federal jobless program

04/01/2011 12:00 AM

04/01/2011 12:08 AM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —Thousands of people in Missouri who have been unemployed for more than a year soon will lose their jobless benefits, marking a significant victory for Republican fiscal hawks who are crusading against government spending.

When eligibility ends Saturday, Missouri will become the only state to voluntarily quit a federal stimulus program that offers extended benefits. Michigan, Arkansas and Florida also recently took steps to cut back on money going to the unemployed, although they targeted state benefits instead.

"We have to take a stand and say, 'When is enough enough?' and send a message to the federal government, and hopefully shame them into doing the right thing and quit spending money that they don't have," said state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis.

Lembke has led a coalition of four filibustering senators who have blocked legislation necessary to reauthorize Missouri's participation in a federal program offering long-term unemployment benefits. It's been a stunning setback for a bill that had passed the Republican-led House 123-14 two months ago and had the support of GOP Senate leaders and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

As a result, more than 34,000 unemployed residents in Missouri could miss out on $105 million in benefits over the next nine months.

At issue is a provision in the 2009 federal stimulus act that allowed residents in states with high unemployment rates to receive up to 20 additional weeks of federally funded jobless benefits after exhausting the 79 weeks authorized under other federal laws. At least three dozen states, including Missouri, enacted laws to participate.

Much like his Missouri counterparts, Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups said the states need to set an example of self-sufficiency.

"Somebody has to start pulling back from the federal government somewhere," said Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.

That federal backlash is particularly strong in Missouri, where voters were the first in the nation to pass a measure challenging the new federal health care mandate and where Republican senators also are holding up federal stimulus money for education.

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