Finding Indiana state law requires the state to accept the federally-funded enhanced unemployment benefits, a Marion County Court has granted plaintiffs’ request to require the state to resume $300 payments to Hoosiers who lost their jobs because of COVID-19.
Marion Superior Judge John Hanley granted the plaintiffs’ motion Friday for preliminary injunction. The state was ordered to notify the U.S. Department of Labor immediately that it will continue to participate in the enhanced unemployment benefits program as first established by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March 2020.
Indiana Legal Services and Macey Sawson Hicks & Sauer filed the complaint on behalf of Indiana residents who have not been able to reenter the workforce and are dependent on the enhanced benefits. The argued Indiana Code section 22-4-37-1 mandates the state accept “all the rights and benefits” offered by the federal government under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1101, 1104 and 1105.
The court agreed.
“The injunction is in the public interest because it is articulated public policy interest in Ind. Code § 22-4-1-1 and the benefits at issue are instrumental in allowing Hoosiers to regain financial stability at an individual level while the State continues to face challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic during its return to normalcy,” Hanley wrote. “Indiana law recognizes the importance of these benefits. Indiana law requires the State to accept these benefits.”
Indiana, which is one of 25 states that opting out of the enhanced benefits, was scheduled to stop the extra payments June 19. Holcomb said Hoosier workers did not need the money because the state’s economy had recovered and jobs are available.
However, plaintiffs in their lawsuit disputed the governor’s assertion, pointing out the number of jobs available are dwarfed by the number of unemployed. Also the plaintiffs themselves contend they are prevented from working because of chronic health conditions, child care issues and housing instability.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys Jennifer Terry of ILS and Jeffrey Macey of Macey Swanson applauded the court’s decision on their motion for a preliminary injunction.
“Continuing the expanded unemployment benefits is meaningful to our clients and Hoosiers across the state who have relied on this assistance throughout the pandemic,” Terry and Macey said in a joint statement. “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.”
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 state of Indiana took the appropriate steps to terminate its participation in federal pandemic unemployment program. The agreement ended on June 19,” the governor’s office said in a statement Friday, adding that Holcomb and the state’s Workforce Development office “will discuss an immediate appeal of the judge’s order with the Attorney General.”
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.