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Hoosiers in limbo amid court battle over federal unemployment benefits

(WISH) – Thursday saw a major development in the fight over federal unemployment benefits in Indiana. It will be at least a week before a state appeals court rules on restarting the $300 weekly payments.

News 8 learned the ruling could come as early as July 9.

The appeals court on Thursday also agreed to speed up its review of a Marion County judge’s order instructing Indiana to rejoin the federal benefits.

The five workers who filed the original lawsuit told the court Thursday morning they need the payments to avoid financial crises like eviction.

Giovanni Chavez-Berrios applies for work daily while receiving unemployment benefits right now. He says his savings is drying up.

“Today is the first of the month. Rent, they’re calling. Cellphone bill is due in like a day or two. Insurance, everything else that I have, is all lately coming due. On my savings, I’ve got to try to manage and let them know, ‘Well, this is how much I can pay,’” Chavez-Berrios said.

He depended on the extra $300 a week in federal pandemic payments. But those payments stopped in June, and now he and hundreds of thousands of other Hoosiers are in limbo.

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.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, ordered Indiana to opt out of federal payments effective June 19, saying it would help speed up the state’s economic recovery. On Thursday at a jobs event in Westfield, News 8 asked the governor to address struggling Hoosiers.

“We want to help them,” he said. “If you are struggling and you are unemployed, there has never been, in my tenure, more opportunity to find a career. I hope it’s something that you’re passionate about.”

He said there are more than 100,000 jobs available, and there is a higher labor participation rate now than before the pandemic. News 8 asked Holcomb why he was continuing to fight the federal unemployment payments in court.

“We’re at a point where we’re managing our way through the current effects of COVID-19. But our job environment and opportunity is more robust, there’s more opportunity now, than prepandemic. So, we’re in a different place. I completely appreciate and understood during the height of the pandemic, how useful, when people had to be hunkered down,” Holcomb said. “No longer is the case.”

Back in Indianapolis, Chavez-Berrios said he’d like the extra weekly federal benefits to be reinstated.

“I have at least 15-20 people that I converse with on a daily basis in regards to this and they are all in need,” Chavez-Berrios said.

As far as what’s next for Chavez and his family, he told News 8 he’s going to keep pushing on through his job search, continue to pray and hope that job offers come in soon.