Judge reinstates federal unemployment benefits

Judge reinstates federal unemployment benefits

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Good news for 69,000 Arkansans who lost 10 weeks of federal COVID unemployment benefits because of an executive order by Governor Hutchinson:

Thanks to a lawsuit by Legal Aid of Arkansas, Pulaski Circuit Judge Herb Wright has issued an injunction to force the governor and the Division of Workforce Services to resume participation in two pandemic unemployment programs, one paying an extra $300 a week. Hutchinson ordered the payments to stop at the end of June, 10 weeks early, claiming it would force people to go back to work.

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The decision could start $30 million a week flowing to Arkansas.

Kevin DeLiban, director of advocacy for Legal Aid, says Wright ruled that state law required the state “to participate in these types of programs for the benefit of its citizens.” Judges in at least two other states have similarly blocked Republican governors’ attempts to truncate the programs.

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The suit was filed by five plaintiffs from around the state who said they’ve tried without success to get new work and are scraping by without the benefits.

Those eligible should now be able to get benefits, but they must continue to seek work and accept any suitable job offer.

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Said DeLiban’s release:

“The plaintiffs’ stories show how hard the pandemic has hit people in all sectors of the economy, whether you’re a factory worker, housekeeper, sandblaster, music teacher, or jewelry maker. Everyone has made their best efforts to go back to work, but it’s not easy out there, and the current COVID outbreak isn’t going to make it any easier.”

The benefits at issue and the state’s related administrative costs are fully funded by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Labor has made it clear in recent guidance that “Any state that has provided notice to the Department of its intent to terminate any of the pandemic UI programs prior to the September 6, 2021 end date may reinstitute participation in any or all programs it previously indicated it would be terminating.”  In such case, full federal funding will continue.

Here’s Wright’s order.

Legal Aid was a leader in the lawsuit that overturned the state’s botched work rule for eligibility to be covered in an expanded Medicaid program.

I’m seeking comments from the governor and attorney general.

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