Missouri Minute: St. Louis County urges schools to start virtually; Hallmark announces layoffs

Good morning, MBA readers,

Receive any unsolicited, mysterious packages recently? You could be one of many Americans who received seeds from China that they did not order. The internet is running wild with conspiracy theories about the seeds, but a leading explanation is that they are part of a scheme to boost an e-commerce seller’s online ratings. The source of mystery seeds isn’t the only question facing Missourians. As numbers of coronavirus cases in the state rise, school districts and public officials are asking to push back start dates or move classes online. Teachers in Columbia are advocating for a delayed start date for in-person classes, and St. Louis County health officials are urging schools to start online. Against the backdrop of a health crisis, Missourians head to the polls Tuesday to decide on another important health care issue: Medicaid expansion. With that decision in mind, we took a look at how other states have fared since expanding the program.


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Travel sector layoffs, furloughs continue in St. Louis
Hundreds of St. Louis-area workers in the travel sector will face layoffs and furloughs. Hilton, American Queen Steamboat Company and Carlson Wagonlit Travel have all recently filed notices with the state. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis County health department urges schools to start virtually
County Executive Sam Page asked all schools in St. Louis County to start the school year online, but he said he will support schools that decide to take an alternative approach to re-opening. (KSDK)

Hallmark Cards announce layoffs
The Kansas City-based greeting card company has announced 120 layoffs, including 90 at its headquarters. The company plans to restructure to support more digital and e-commerce options. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Bankruptcy court judge approves St. Alexius hospital sale
The St. Louis hospital will be sold to SA Hospital Acquisition Group. Americore Holdings is the current owner of the hospital and has been in bankruptcy proceedings since late 2019. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Kansas City tenants protest evictions amid pandemic
Members of the group KC Tenants took turns interrupting eviction court proceedings Thursday while others protested outside the courthouse. They object to evictions of renters left vulnerable by the coronavirus. (Kansas City Star)

KC school districts weigh public health guidance, plot reopening plans
Some school districts in the metro area will not return to in-person classes unless confirmed cases of COVID-19 decline below a 5% positivity rate. Local public health officials have cautioned that increasing cases could keep schools closed for months. (KCUR)

Columbia teachers seek delayed start for in-person classes
The union representing the city’s teachers is urging the school district to start in-person classes after Labor Day at the earliest. (Columbia Missourian)

Pandemic food stamp benefits extended
Missourians receiving food stamp benefits will continue to see the maximum benefits automatically applied to their accounts until the end of August. (Missourinet)

St. Louis researchers develop ‘smart farm’ technology
Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the FieldDock project works to find the most efficient way to grow crops with the least human labor. Researchers are creating a system of sensors, artificial intelligence and drones that run on sustainable energy and track the health of crops in real time. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Say that again

I don’t know if it’s going to be this amazing budgetary savior for the state. I think it is also really unlikely that it’s going to be a huge disaster.”

That’s Jake Haselswerdt, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, speaking about the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Missouri. With voters set to decide on an expansion measure Tuesday, supporters of expanding the health insurance program for low-income people argue that Missouri will ultimately save money and serve more people if it passes. Critics argue that it will really cost the state in the long run. Studies of states that have already expanded Medicaid indicate that the measure can save the government money while also creating new jobs, but the nuances of how different states have approached expansion make exact comparisons difficult.


Go figure

14,804

That’s how many Missourians filed initial unemployment claims last week, which is up 22% from 12,134 claims the week before. Unemployment claims in the state have risen twice in the last five weeks after eight straight weeks of decreases.


Hello, my name is

NXTSTAGE

This Wichita, Kansas-based pilot competition has announced three financial technology startups from the Kansas City area as finalists, out of the nearly 300 that applied, Startland News reports. The competition was created earlier this year and seeks to help startups move into the next stage of their growth through mentorship and connections. The Kansas City startups to advance to the competition’s final round are Griffin, Destiny and Bellwethr.


Word to the wise

Brushing scam
This is a term for when a third-party company that sells goods online, typically through sites such as Amazon, Ebay or Etsy, ships out unsolicited orders to random addresses as part of a scheme to boost its seller ratings. Sites such as the ones mentioned only allow reviews to be posted for fulfilled orders, so companies will pose as the person who lives at an address to write a positive review after the unsolicited order is shipped. This is a leading theory explaining a recent phenomenon involving people all over the country, including Missouri, receiving packages of seeds from China, CNN reports. Of course, a variety of other potential explanations have been floated, including conspiracy theories about the seeds being invasive species sent to destabilize American plant growth, but at the moment the actual reason for the packages is unknown.


It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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