Workers see mixed success with lawsuits over early termination of unemployment benefits

·Reporter
·3 min read

Unemployed workers in Missouri are suing their governor for ending federal unemployment programs early, becoming part of a movement that has cropped up in ten other states where similar lawsuits have met mixed success.

Missouri Jobs with Justice — a grassroots coalition representing jobless residents — claimed that Gov. Mike Parson's decision to opt out of the programs on June 12 — three months before the federal expiration on September 6 — violated state law and caused workers financial uncertainty and distress.

“The Governor’s action directly violated Missouri law, which requires the state to cooperate with the federal government to maximize support for struggling families,” Caitlyn Adams, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, said in a statement on Thursday. “Today, we seek to restore the benefits that were unjustly taken from families and to fight for an economy where all Missouri families are valued and supported.”

The latest lawsuit comes as lawsuits in Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, and Oklahoma have been successful — in some cases, at least temporarily — while those in Louisiana, Ohio, and West Virginia have been denied by judges.

Last week, Oklahoma County District Judge Anthony Bonner ordered the reinstatement of the additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, granting a preliminary injunction until a final decision by the state’s Supreme Court is reached.

“Oklahoma shall notify the U.S. Department of Labor immediately to reinstate and administer the federal unemployment benefit programs,” Bonner wrote in a letter to attorneys, the Oklahoman reported.

A lawsuit in West Virginia is the latest to be denied. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers this week denied the request for a temporary restraining order in connection with Gov. Jim Justice's decision to terminate the federal unemployment programs early.

“I think it’s clear that injunctive relief here is not appropriate because the benefits have stopped,” Akers told the court, West Virginia MetroNews reported. “There’s no question, even from the pleadings, that your clients have been harmed here… but under the law, we have to proceed with the correct procedure.”

Sandra Presley (L) interviews for a job as a hotel front desk staff member with a human resources manager during a Zislis Group job fair at The Brew Hall on June 23, 2021 in Torrance, California. - Employers at the job fair for Zislis Group boutique hotel and restaurant management company, offered hiring incentives, including a $500 signing bonus and $200 per month for medical benefits after 90 days of employment. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Sandra Presley (L) interviews for a job as a hotel front desk staff member with a human resources manager during a Zislis Group job fair at The Brew Hall on June 23, 2021 in Torrance, California. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

In all, 26 states have cut off the extra $300 in weekly benefits before the federal expiration, while 22 have also canceled the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for workers who don’t normally qualify for regular unemployment insurance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program that provides extra weeks of benefits.

More than 4 million workers are affected by the cuts in those states, losing a total of $22.5 billion in potential benefits, according to estimates by the Century Foundation. Nearly 3 in 5 workers affected by the early expirations have been left with no benefits at all.

So far, lawsuits have been filed in 11 of the 26 states.

“The lawsuits that were filed by what I might call unemployment experts — people that were attorneys for the poor — those lawsuits have generally prevailed," Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, previously told Yahoo Money. "Whereas the ones so far that were filed by attorneys that were just general attorneys or general employment lawyers and private practice, those have not prevailed."

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Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova

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