Several Republican-Led States Sued for Prematurely Terminating Federal COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits

Republican governors in states including Ohio, Oklahoma, Indiana, Maryland, and Texas who ended their federally funded pandemic unemployment programs early over fears that the programs were keeping people from returning to work now have another problem to worry about: lawsuits from groups of unemployed workers demanding the programs be reinstated.

Tami Luhby of CNN has reported that earlier this year, up to 26 different states began “terminating early at least one of the three pandemic unemployment insurance programs Congress enacted in March 2020 and extended twice.”

Luhby added that “most of these states have already stopped sending the benefits to their residents,” citing “workforce shortages.”

However, as the unemployment programs in these areas began to lapse, jobless residents impacted by the change have turned to the courts, demanding state legislatures resume the federally approved payments.

Luhby reported that “Judges in Maryland and Indiana have ordered officials to temporarily restore the payments while the cases play out in court, but only Maryland has done so.”

In Indiana and Ohio, state officials are trying to figure out how to proceed with the lawsuit and potential reinstatement of the program — a problem made more complex because both state programs technically no longer exist following their termination dates.

“In Oklahoma, a lawsuit filed on behalf of an unemployed resident argues that Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt did not have the authority to terminate the programs and that state law requires officials to secure federal benefits for unemployed workers,” Luhby reported. 

A similar lawsuit filed in Texas alleges that GOP Gov. Greg Abbott also ended benefit programs he had no actual legislative power over.

Acknowledging the growing number of lawsuits, the Biden administration has tried to step in to assist, saying states that terminated their pandemic unemployment programs early can restart them — although there may be a break in payments for some laid-off workers.

“If the date of termination has already passed, states may need to enter into a new agreement with the Department of Labor,” Luhby reported. “If the termination date has not passed, the state can simply inform the U.S. Department of Labor that it is rescinding or modifying the notice it had filed.”

Should states reinstate their programs, benefits include the $300 weekly boost to an individual’s unemployment and additional payments made to those who’ve exhausted their regular state benefits. That said, authorities say these benefits won’t start again until after the agreement is signed.

Whether states have chosen to act on them or not, all three federal pandemic unemployment programs are currently scheduled to expire and end in early September.

The White House said they never wanted the programs to end early in the first place but were also powerless to prevent the early termination of benefits since payments and programs are ultimately controlled on a state level.

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