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Marion County judge orders Indiana to reinstate expanded federal unemployment

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Marion County judge on Friday said that the state must reinstate expanded federal unemployment benefits until a final ruling is made in a case filed by a group of people who are unemployed.

Judge John Hanley of Marion Superior Court called for a temporary reinstatement of benefits that Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb ended June 19. Hanley found that by rejecting federal benefits, the state is violating Indiana law. He also said the plaintiffs had shown a “reasonable likelihood of success.”

Indiana code gives the state the responsibility of securing “all rights and benefits” conferred under certain federal statutes, including those that “deal with the establishment and funding of federal and state unemployment benefits schemes,” Hanley said, and the benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are funded by those statutes.

“Indiana law recognizes the importance of these benefits. Indiana law requires the State to accept these benefits,” Hanley said.

The costs incurred by the state to administer those benefits are also covered by the CARES Act, so the balance of harm favors the plaintiffs, as their loss of benefits outweighs any potential harm to the state, Hanley said.

Through the CARES Act signed into law in March 2020 by President Donald Trump, the extra unemployment benefits were supposed to last through September, but Holcomb said that extra money would be cut off for Hoosiers. Republican governors in states ending the pandemic benefits have cited workforce shortages and the improving economy as the reasons behind their decisions.

The judgment requires the state to immediately notify the U.S. Department of Labor of its continued participation in CARES Act programs until the court makes a final decision in the case, the filing said.

These federal programs came to an end in Indiana on June 19:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides a $300 weekly add-on to recipients of unemployment insurance.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides recipients extended benefits after their traditional 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits have been exhausted.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits to individuals who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed, gig workers, and independent contractors.
  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides a $100 additional weekly benefit for individuals who are eligible for regular unemployment benefits but also earned at least $5,000 in self-employment income.

About 230,000 Indiana residents are receiving unemployment benefits, according to The Century Foundation. Some 177,000 have been left without any jobless payments, and the rest lost the $300 federal weekly boost.

Giovanni Chavez has been on unemployment for 14 months, ever since he was laid off soon after the pandemic hit. “It’s needed,” he said. “The funds are needed, they are needed for myself, I’m pretty sure other families.”

Chavez has a Master of Business Administration degree and still hasn’t found work. He said the extra $300 will help him pay rent and other bills along with provide for his children. “It makes a big difference,” Chavez said.

The office of Gov. Holcomb released this statement on Friday evening: “The state of Indiana took the appropriate steps to terminate its participation in federal pandemic unemployment program. The agreement ended on June 19. The Governor and Department of Workforce Development will discuss an immediate appeal of the judge’s order with the Attorney General.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jennifer Terry with Indiana Legal Services and Jeffrey Macey with Macey Swanson, released this statement on Friday:

“Continuing the expanded unemployment benefits is meaningful to our clients and Hoosiers across the state who have relied on this assistance throughout the pandemic. While there will be further legal proceedings in this case, we look forward to the state following the judge’s orders to reinstate the benefits for so many in need right now.”

The Indiana Democratic Party on Friday afternoon issued this statement:

“Federal unemployment benefits – funded by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan – are helping Hoosier families put the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Still, COVID-19 exposed one glaring problem too many Hoosier workers know: many jobs do not pay a livable wage and force people to work more for less. The responsibility of this unfair reality should fall on the state’s elected leaders who too often are putting their extreme partisanship ahead of common-sense solutions like raising the state’s minimum wage. Democrats know it’s past time to raise worker wages, and we hope Republicans can finally get on board so that a better future can be built for every Hoosier family across Indiana.”