Runaway jobless claims drain state funds

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Missouri's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is the fund that pays out unemployment benefits to jobless workers.

A recent state auditor's report suggests that the fund could be insolvent by next year. State Auditor Claire McCaskill's report says the fund is expected to pay out $414 million more than it receives next year. She recommends higher taxes on employers and other reforms.

In the past two years, the state has paid from this fund over $100 million to former employees who lost their jobs due to their own fault.

According to the Department of Labor, 20 percent of the total approved claims in 2000 involved discharge issues. This is the category of workers who were discharged for valid reasons but still are allowed to collect unemployment benefits.

Included in it are outrageous cases, such as the workers fired for testing positive for drugs who nonetheless manage to get benefits. These workers represent a positive danger to all around them in the workplace. No way should they have a chance at being paid benefits, but this is what's happening in Missouri.

The reason is that efforts to pass legislation outlawing this have been stymied in the Missouri Senate by lobbyists for the state AFL-CIO and a few senators who dance to their tune.

What a disgrace.

We hope senators get a chance once again this year to debate a bill that would end this outrageous practice. At a minimum, before more taxes are loaded on Missouri employers, reforms such as this must be enacted.

Meanwhile, in addition to lawmakers, among those charged with maintaining the fund is the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, whose three members are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The looming insolvency can be fairly laid at their doorstep. Lawmakers and the governor should investigate the sort of awards this commission has been handing out.

It might be interesting to see what they would learn.

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