Lawsuit challenges Indiana governor’s decision to drop extra unemployment benefits

Coronavirus
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivers his State of the State address virtually, in Indianapolis. Gov. Holcomb asked a court Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to block a new law that legislators passed giving themselves more authority to intervene when the state’s chief executive declares an emergency. The measure establishes a new process under which legislative leaders can call the General Assembly into what it calls an “emergency session.” The governor’s lawsuit argues that the Legislature is “usurping a power given exclusively to the governor” under the Indiana Constitution to call lawmakers into a special session. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two legal organizations are seeking to stop Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb from dropping out of the federal program providing an extra $300 in weekly payments to unemployed workers and other programs that expanded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Marion County Superior Court by Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer law firm and Indiana Legal Services, an organization that provides legal assistance to those with low income, argues that Indiana law requires the state to procure federal insurance benefits to residents.

It emphasizes that the Republican governor’s actions to withdraw Indiana from the expanded unemployment benefits before the Sept. 6 expiration of those benefits will hurt thousands.

“These benefits have provided life-sustaining and crucial assistance to many Hoosiers during the pandemic,” Jon Laramore, executive director of Indiana Legal Services, said 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 announced last month that Indiana would reinstate a requirement that those receiving unemployment benefits will again have to show they are actively searching for work as of June 1 and that the state will leave the federal programs effective June 19.

Indiana is also ending its participation in a federal program that made gig workers and the self-employed eligible for assistance for the first time and another that provides extra weeks of aid.

The decision to withdraw the state from the federal programs came as many businesses blame the extra $300 weekly payment and the ease of obtaining unemployment benefits with making it more difficult to fill job openings. Republican legislative leaders additionally urged Holcomb to withdraw Indiana from those federal programs.

The $300 payments have more than doubled Indiana’s average $280 weekly unemployment payment, which has a maximum of $390 a week, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. The changes could cut off or reduce unemployment benefits to more than 220,000 people in the state.

Holcomb said jobs are available around the state and pointed to Indiana’s 3.9% unemployment rate for April, which was down from the pandemic peak of 16.9% a year earlier. Ending the benefits early will also help Indiana businesses find and hire qualified employees for thousands of open positions, he said.

The governor’s office said in a statement Tuesday that it has worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to end its participation in the program.

“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,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

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