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.
Maryland residents will likely receive pandemic benefits until Congress’ mandated expiration date of September 6, after securing another court victory Tuesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs said. And payments in Indiana could restart as soon as Friday, a state official said.
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.
Some 4.1 million Americans will be affected, according to The Century Foundation.
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.
A state judge in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, continuing his ban on Gov. Larry Hogan dropping the benefits. But the state labor secretary testified at the hearing Monday that the programs will continue at least until mid-August because the federal government is requiring states to provide 30 days’ notice to terminate them.
It’s unlikely the court case will be resolved before the programs are scheduled to end on September 6, said Alec Summerfield, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. That means jobless Maryland residents should continue to receive them until Congress’ scheduled expiration date.
“The court understood the human toll, as well,” said Sally Dworak-Fisher, who represents some of the plaintiffs. “It understood the costs to Marylanders outweighed any potential harm to the state.”
Maryland officials did not immediately return a request for comment, but Hogan said he will not pursue an appeal, according to Dworak-Fisher.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, payments could resume as soon as Friday as the state Department of Workforce Development works to restart the programs, Scott Olson, an agency spokesman, said. The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday denied the state’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction issued last month by lower court.
“We acknowledge the court of appeals decision today,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Monday. “Notwithstanding, the Department of Workforce Development will continue to work with the US Department of Labor on finalizing the pandemic unemployment insurance benefits to comply with the judge’s order.”
The resumption of the payments will help unemployed Hoosiers afford housing, food and health care as they look for jobs, said the plaintiffs’ co-counsels Jennifer Terry of Indiana Legal Services and Jeffrey Macey of Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer.
More on Covid-19 relief
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.