Director's Spotlight: The Division of Employment Security
The past two years have been hard on the state of Missouri, and on millions of hard-working Missourians. Unemployment in our state is at a 30-year high, and people are staying unemployed for far longer than usual. Many Missourians have exhausted all the unemployment benefits for which they were eligible. The Division of Employment Security (DES), a division within the Missouri Labor Department, is the state agency responsible for administering unemployment benefits in Missouri. In these difficult times, we have striven to be responsive to both workers and our business partners.
Due to the nationwide recession, the federal government has made a number of extensions available to claimants who have exhausted their regular state benefits. And it has been our job at the DES to quickly process benefits claims and ensure that claimants transitioned smoothly through the four tiers of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The different programs had different durations and ending dates, so our staff worked to move claimants back and forth between programs for which they were eligible, ensuring that our claimants could have the least possible interruption of benefits. Our goal was to take advantage of all federal dollars available to our claimants and our state. The DES staff has done a commendable job for Missourians who need these benefits to feed their family and put gas in the car to find the next job.
On March 4th, Gov. Nixon signed into law HB 1544. This bill allows Missouri to take advantage of the 100 percent federal funding for the state Extended Benefits (EB) program, which provides an additional up to 20 weeks of benefits to approximately 4,000 unemployed Missourians facing an end to their benefits. HB 1544 is the result of bipartisan cooperation in the Missouri General Assembly and the hard work of DES employees.
With the economic downturn, an ever-increasing number of Missouri businesses were forced to face a decrease in demand, and therefore revenue. Normally, this can mean layoffs. However, the Department offers a solution to employers faced with these tough decisions: the “Shared Work” Program, whiich was expanded by HB 1544 from 26 weeks to a full year. The Shared Work Program provides an alternative to layoffs allowing employers to reduce their payroll while still maintaining their entire skilled workforce. The employees working reduced hours can collect a percentage of their eligible unemployment insurance benefits and the employer is charged that percentage of the benefit charge. Interest in the program has exploded in recent years. In 2009, we saw a 182.5 percent increase in participating businesses, saving more than 44,000 Missouri jobs. And already this year, more than 56 new employers signed up for the program, saving nearly 6,500 jobs in our state. The DES did its part by expanding our Shared Work staff to accommodate all of these new participating businesses and employees, thus allowing greater flexibility and options to responsible employers who want to avoid layoffs.
We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel and believe Missouri’s economic recovery is right around the corner. In the meantime, the Department is committed to the residents and businesses of our state by retaining the jobs we have and providing assistance to those who have lost theirs until we all get back on our feet.