I wonder if our state legislators will consider revisiting Missouri’s meager unemployment benefits since very large numbers of people are being tossed out of work with no clear idea of when their jobs come back. Figures to clarify how bad it is are due later this week.
Missouri is a bad place to be out of work. Jobless benefits are a maximum of $320 a week for an individual. Only six states have a lower benefit. The standard is 26 weeks of benefits. That’s where 42 states are. Missouri is at 20 weeks; only four states are lower than that. Missouri would be below 20 weeks were it not for a court decision four years ago.
The only movement the state seems to be taking is relaxing the rule on making three job-seeking contacts a week to remain eligible for benefits.
This is just one aspect of Missouri’s lack of preparedness for a real crisis. Most of our elected state officials simply aren’t cut out for this kind of challenge. Their priorities are largely about ideology and the agendas of their campaign funders, as reflected in the issues they choose to address, the issues that get lip service and the issues that get ignored. The interests of people who work for a living aren’t high on the priority list in the best of times. Adequately addressing a complex, fast-moving crisis, I fear, is beyond their reach.
History shows that in crises the most unlikely people will surprise you, in good ways and bad. So you have to leave open the possibility that something substantial will get done on this, but the track record indicates otherwise.
Comcast steps up
Comcast, which provides cable service to much of Eastern Jackson County, has made moves it says will help during the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s offering its Xfinity WiFi for free, and all customers will receive unlimited data for 60 days without an added charge. It has suspended late fees and disconnections. It says it has additional news and information on X1 and Flex.
It’s also working to help low-income customers. It’s Internet Essentials is $9.95 a month for qualified low-customers, but it’s now giving that service free for 60 days to new customers. It’s also increasing that service’s speed from 15/2 megabits per second to 25/3.
Sign up at www.internetessentials.com. There’s also a video chat option with customer service agents in American Sign Language. Also, 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.
Amtrak has shifted the schedule of one of its daily trains across Missouri. The morning Missouri River Runner No. 311 out of St. Louis, as of Tuesday, leaves at 8:15, an hour earlier. That puts it in Jefferson City at 10:36 a.m., Independence at 1:20 p.m. and Kansas City at 1:55 p.m.
Amtrak didn’t give a reason, but that train has had particular on-time problems. The Union Pacific, which owns the track and dispatches the trains, trashes Amtrak’s schedule frequently. Also, this move gives Amtrak another hour to turn that train around and leave Union Station at 4 p.m., headed back east. Sometimes the westbound train runs so late that this becomes an issue. No. 311 was on time Tuesday, so that’s something.
Resources for COVID-19
Lots of good stuff out there for business owners and others to keep body and soul together during these times. Here are three:
• The federal Small Business Administration is holding a webinar Wednesday morning on disaster loans for small businesses. It’s from 11 a.m. to noon, and the SBA says space is limited. Call 1-312-626-6799; the meeting ID is 541 275 598.
• The Independence Chamber of Commerce has set up a Facebook page – Independence Missouri COVID-19 Business Resources Group – with a range of resources and links. Businesses can post whether they’re open, their hours, etc.
There’s also a link to a FEMA page knocking down some of the rumors making the rounds.
• The Missouri attorney general’s office has taken steps it says will make it easier to report price gouging.
It’s a new form on the office’s website. Go to https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/price-gouging. Make sure you have specifics – time, date, place, price you paid, the normal price, etc.
You can also call the consumer protection hotline at 1-800-392-8222.
Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.