Missouri’s GOP governor mulls jobless benefits for anti-vaxxers after yanking them from others
Mike Parson in August 2020. - Chris Kohley/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS

Republican Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri -- one of the nation's most aggressive governors in cutting back unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic -- has found a protected class he'll provide for generously: Employees fired for refusing their companies vaccine protocols.

Parson has floated the idea of following the footsteps of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who late last month signed a bill guaranteeing employment benefits for those who lose their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday that Parson is couching the move as pushback to President Joe Biden:

"'The governor is always open to making improvements to any program in state government especially when it comes to protecting the workforce from overreaching federal vaccine mandates,' Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said Tuesday.

The suggestion comes as workers at businesses with more than 100 employees face a Jan. 4 deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face mask requirements and weekly tests.

"The Biden administration has been encouraging widespread vaccinations to bring an end to the pandemic, which has killed more than 12,000 Missourians.

"Private businesses, health care companies and others also are mandating vaccinations, but Missouri's rate of fully vaccinated people remains below the 50% level despite medical evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective."

The spokesperson declined to answer whether Parson would seek authorization from the state legislature. Under Missouri law, unemployment benefits are not payable to workers fired for cause.

Especially striking about Parson's stance is that he has been second to none in attempting to resist paying unemployment benefits to Missourians who have tried to follow the advice of public-health officials throughout the pandemic.

As far back as June, 2020 -- with the pandemic just taking off -- Parson's administration announced it would reinstate requirements that unemployment applicants each week document three "work-search activities," such as filling out a job application or attending a job fair, the Columbia Daily Tribute reported, adding this:

"State officials also are re-imposing a one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, effectively delaying state payments to jobless workers by a week."

Missouri was among the first 16 red states to announce last May that -- in the all-caps words headlining the governor's press release -- it would "END ALL FEDERAL PANDEMIC RELATED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS."

Parson stated in the release that "from conversations with business owners across the state, we know that they are struggling not because of COVID-19 but because of labor shortages resulting from these excessive federal unemployment programs."

Missouri then had the distinction of being the first state highlighted nationally as an example of the governor's unscientific assumption having been disproven, in late June in the New York Times and in July in the Washington Post.

"So far, early data suggests that cutting the benefits given to Americans who lost their jobs during the covid-19 pandemic has not led to a big pickup in hiring," the Post reported. "The 20 states that reduced benefits in June had the same pace of hiring as the mostly Democrat-led states that kept the extra $300-a-week unemployment payments in place, according to state-level data from the Labor Department. Survey data from the Census Bureau and Gusto's small-business payroll data show similar results."

Throughout the pandemic Parson also has been a "leader" among governors in refusing to follow the guidance of the CDC and other public-health officials. Parson was of just 11 governors never to issue a statewide mask mandate.

Both Parson and his wife Teresa contracted the virus last September after declining to wear masks in dozens of public appearances. The Post-Dispatch reported that Parson --appearing mask-less at an event in Sedalia in July 2020 --Parson had this to say to his audience:

"You don't need government to tell you to wear a dang mask. If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask."