Missouri residents who were overpaid unemployment benefits during the pandemic should pay the money back, while businesses that suffered because of local shutdown orders should get a financial break, Gov. Mike Parson said this week.

The governor suggested the legislature “should put everything on the table” in regard to protecting businesses from temporary closures.

Parson was asked if the legislature should include property tax waivers for business affected by closure.

“I don’t know what the state’s going to do but I’m gonna say this,” he said, “that option should be looked at to see what we can do to make that business whole if it was government that intruded on them making a living.”

This comes as lawmakers in Jefferson City are debating several bills that would create new buffers between businesses and local public health orders.

Local businesses — especially those in the restaurant industry — have been hit particularly hard by issued mitigation efforts, Parson said.

The governor spoke with reporters during a Q&A hosted by the Missouri Press Association on Thursday. He recalled his experience managing the several gas stations he once owned.

“I can’t imagine me trying to pay for my family, for my kids living, and then government coming in someday and saying ‘You can’t put your key in your own business,’” he said. “That’s very difficult for me to understand, that anybody could be able to do that for a long period of time.”

Parson went on to say that “if government’s going to want you to have a license or want you to pay taxes on that business, there should be an adjustment to it if they haven’t allowed you to operate. I mean, I think that’s just common sense — it’s just Business 101.”

Paying back benefits

The governor said those who were overpaid unemployment benefits in error over the past year should have to pay back the money.

House Bill 873 — sponsored by Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, — would bar the state from collecting unemployment payments from people who were overpaid “during a state of emergency that related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bill text reads.

Missouri residents were overpaid roughly $96 million in unemployment benefits between January and September last year, the Missouri Department of Labor told St. Louis Public Radio last week. In some cases, there have been reports that agencies were at fault. In others, there may have been confusion by the person filing or attempts to get more money than someone should have been given.

Whether or not that provision would retroactively apply to those who have already received notices is unclear.

Parson does not believe a blanket policy would work because “some people did actually try to (de)fraud the system.”

“And we know that,” he said. “To give them a free pass when they intentionally did that is one thing. For the people that just made a mistake, you know, it’s just life in general. If you got more money than you should, you should have an obligation to pay it back.”

“Because you’re taking it away from someone else,” Parson said. “I know it’s easy to say it’s government money, but the reality is it needs to go somewhere else that needs it.”

Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he doesn’t believe the money will be recouped by the state.

“If it’s what we think it looks like,” he said, “the state’s probably going to have to eat it.”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • State reporter, fall 2020. Studying print and digital news. Reach me at asjbhx@umsystem.edu, or (573) 356-7458

  • Mark Horvit is the state government editor. Call me at 817-726-1621 with story ideas, tips or complaints.

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