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Lawsuit challenges Holcomb's decision to end federal unemployment benefits

Benefits scheduled to end Saturday in Indiana
Posted at 8:22 AM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 04:27:11-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Two legal organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Eric Holcomb's decision to end extended unemployment insurance benefits.

Holcomb announced May 17 that Indiana will stop providing federal COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits on June 19. He cited the number of businesses looking for new employees as his reasoning for ending the state's participation in the programs.

Indiana Legal Services, the largest provider of free civil legal assistance in the state, and Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer law firm challenged Holcomb's decision in a lawsuit filed in Marion Superior County Court against the state, according to a news release sent Tuesday morning. They asked for a preliminary injunction, which would allow people to receive benefits while the case continues.

The legal teams claimed that ending the benefits established by the CARES Act "would cause irreparable harm to individual clients and a group of local clergy named in the suit and, by default, all Hoosiers across the state. The legal challenge is based on Indiana law 22-4-37-1 that requires the state to procure all available federal insurance benefits to citizens."

“These benefits have provided life-sustaining and crucial assistance to many Hoosiers during the pandemic,” said Jon Laramore, executive director of Indiana Legal Services in a statement. “The legislature passed a law creating a right to these benefits, and we’re asking Governor Holcomb to follow the law.”

Holcomb's office countered in a statement Tuesday saying, "The Department of Workforce Development worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to properly complete all required steps to end its participation in federally funded pandemic unemployment insurance programs this month.

"DWD has timely notified impacted claimants about the state’s withdrawal from the federal programs and continues to connect impacted Hoosiers with the resources they need to gain skills and be matched with employment."

Many business owners have blamed an extra $300 weekly payment and the ease of obtaining unemployment benefits with making it more difficult to fill job openings.

The four programs that will end Saturday in Indiana include:

  • 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 people 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 people who are eligible for regular unemployment benefits but also earned at least $5,000 in self-employment income.

“Eliminating these pandemic programs will not be a silver bullet for employers to find employees, but we currently have about 116,000 available jobs in the state that need filled now,” Holcomb said in May. “I’ve spoken to leaders in the recreational vehicle industry who tell me they could hire thousands of people today, and in the last couple weeks, we’ve seen companies like Amazon, Apple, Toyota, and Milwaukee Tool announce thousands of new career opportunities for Hoosiers."

However, the legal teams cited a Century Foundation study that found that cutting benefits would affect more than 286,000 people and would result in a forfeiture of $1.5 billion by the state.

"This lawsuit is premised on a law passed by the legislature that says it's the policy of the State of Indiana to avail itself of federal unemployment benefits that are available to eligible Hoosiers and we're asking that the state follow that law to obtain those benefits for people who may be eligible," Jennifer Terry, an attorney with Indiana Legal Services said.

"Many of them are worried about facing eviction because they will not have income to meet their rent and other expenses of daily living. One of the clients also has childcare issues. She doesn't have adequate access to affordable childcare in her area," Terry said.

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