SB 1 is designed to bring solvency back to Missouri’s Second Injury Fund. Currently the fund is facing total unpaid liability of nearly $1 billion. One of the primary reasons the fund is insolvent is because of the massive expansion of claims over the last twenty years. Included in SB 1 are provisions concerning occupational diseases. There is an effort to take the claims for these diseases out of the Second Injury Fund and put them into Missouri’s Worker’s Compensation system. After passing the House this week, SB 1 now goes back to the Senate for their approval, or it will go to a conference committee to work out any differences. Many lawyers working with the Second Injury Fund are calling for an “orderly exit from a bad situation.” However, some are still hopeful that a legislative “fix,” that incudes reforms to protect both the fund as well as employers, can be found before the end of Session.
SB 28 modifies the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits. After several years of high unemployment, Missouri, as well as most every state, has drained its unemployment insurance trust fund account. Collectively, states owe the federal government almost $30 billion. This money is now due, along with interest. Missouri’s unemployment insurance system is currently more than $500 million in debt to the federal government.
During the recent economic recession, more people received unemployment benefits, benefits that were temporarily extended from twenty-six weeks to ninety-nine weeks. Because of the financial impact on the states, many have cut their benefits over the last couple of years, with some reducing the number of weeks in which a person can collect this money. Missouri has already reduced the number of weeks from twenty-six to twenty.
Along with reducing the number of weeks of eligibility, other reforms of our unemployment benefits are now necessary, and SB 28 addresses these issues by reasonably tightening the eligibility requirements. Current law states that in order to qualify for unemployment benefits, individuals must lose their jobs through no fault of their own or they must quit for a good cause—a reason related to their work or their employer. A person can receive unemployment benefits if he or she is fired, but not fired because of misconduct. The problem is that the current definition of misconduct doesn’t specify what offenses constitute misconduct. Of course, this has resulted in abuse to the system, and SB 28 simply puts into state statutes the common sense wording that there are certain behaviors that reasonably result in termination. Most people believe that the state should not have to pick up the tab for these individuals or reward misconduct with unemployment benefits.
Under the revised law, misconduct occurs when an employee knowingly violates the standards of behavior that are expected by the employer. Included under the new definition of misconduct is chronic absenteeism or tardiness. This is an essential provision of the bill, because chronic absenteeism hurts a company’s productivity and makes the worker a liability, not an asset, to the workplace environment.
Unemployment insurance, like other state benefits, was created as a safety net to protect workers who are terminated because of a company-wide downsizing, an unjust cause, or other reasons that aren’t the fault of the employee. This is why we are strengthening and reforming the program to help those folks who really need it, while trying to keep the fund solvent.