Indiana delays unemployment benefits despite judge’s ruling

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Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development said Wednesday that it still hasn’t decided how to continue payment of federal unemployment benefits, more than a week after a judge ruled that the state must restart the extra $300 weekly payments to unemployed workers.

An agency spokesperson declined to comment on if or when the state plans to rejoin the programs that expanded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. It could still be nearly three weeks before a judge rules on Gov. Eric Holcomb’s appeal to drop Indiana from the national programs before they’re scheduled to end on Sept. 6.

Attorneys for the state maintain Indiana can’t continue paying out the benefits because the state has already ended its agreement with the federal government to administer the federal programs.

Entering into a new agreement would require the workforce development office to expend extra time and resources to “rework its information technology system,” according to court documents. The state also argued that Indiana would not have time to withdraw from the federal programs again should the appeals court rule in the state’s favor.

Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development notified the labor department of the injunction and “requested guidance” on June 28, according to court filings, although the state agency has not confirmed whether it’s entered into a new agreement with the labor department.

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the federal government will accept states back into the programs after they’ve terminated the benefits, noting that the agency is working with Indiana officials to make technical or other changes needed to comply with the court orders.

Holcomb announced in May 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 would leave the federal programs effective June 19.

Indiana also ended 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 state is one of 27 that are terminating early at least one of the three pandemic unemployment insurance programs that Congress enacted in March 2020 to support workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Maryland, a judge issued a temporary restraining order Saturday morning — just hours before the benefits were set to expire — ordering that the governor can’t remove the state from the programs. Echoing the Indiana court, the Baltimore circuit judge ruled that the benefits must continue until pending lawsuits are resolved to avoid “irreparable harm” to jobless workers. An appeal filed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was rejected Monday.

Lawsuits have also been filed in Ohio and Texas, where unemployment aid was terminated early in both states on June 26.

The Ohio suit, which argues that the state is required to seek the maximum benefits available to its residents, is still pending. A judge has rejected the lawsuit filed by more than 30,000 workers in Texas, however, citing concerns over the group’s standing to sue.

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