Biden administration says states can restart pandemic unemployment benefits as lawsuits mount
By Tami Luhby, CNN
(CNN) -- States that have terminated pandemic unemployment benefits early can restart the programs, but there may be a break in payments for some laid-off Americans, the Biden administration said Monday.
The guidance comes as jobless residents in more states file lawsuits to reinstate the benefits. Unemployed workers in Ohio and Oklahoma this month joined those in Indiana, Maryland and Texas in turning to state courts to force their governors to resume the payments.
Citing workforce shortages, some 26 states are terminating early at least one of the three pandemic unemployment insurance programs Congress enacted in March 2020 and extended twice. Most of these states have already stopped sending the benefits to their residents.
In addition to the $300 weekly supplement, the federal programs provide benefits to freelancers, the self-employed, independent contractors and certain people affected by the coronavirus and to those who have exhausted their regular state benefits.
The three pandemic unemployment programs are scheduled to expire in early September in the states that are continuing them.
If the date of termination has already passed, states may need to enter into a new agreement with the Department of Labor, according to the guidance. Two of the programs -- the $300 weekly boost and the payments to those who've exhausted their regular state benefits -- won't begin again until after the agreement is signed.
However, those in the pandemic unemployment assistance program for freelancers, the self-employed and others must be allowed to certify for the weeks they missed so they can receive those payments, the agency said.
If the termination date has not passed, the state can simply inform the US Department of Labor that it is rescinding or modifying the notice it filed.
After the mostly Republican-led states began announcing the terminations in May, consumer advocates and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont urged the Biden administration to stop the governors from ending the payments.
But the administration said it could not do anything to prevent the states from ceasing the programs.
Turning to the courts
Jobless residents in at least five states have filed lawsuits, arguing that the benefits were improperly halted.
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. A state judge is expected to issue a ruling on Tuesday.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development has said it is "determining how to proceed because the federal programs no longer exist after their termination on June 19."
In both states, the jobless are arguing that state law requires officials to obtain all federal unemployment compensation available for residents.
Meanwhile, unemployed workers in Ohio filed a lawsuit earlier this month arguing that their state officials must do the same. The state terminated only the $300 weekly benefit at the end of June. The plaintiffs are asking the judge to order the resumption of the supplement.
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.
The jobless in Texas have also filed a lawsuit against GOP Gov. Greg Abbott for ending the benefits on June 26, arguing he doesn't have the authority to do so.
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