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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Indiana court ruling won’t end extra unemployment payments

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana will continue paying out the extra $300 in weekly federal unemployment payments despite a Tuesday court ruling that the state’s Republican governor had the authority to cut off the benefit.

Those payments will continue because the state must give recipients a 30-day notice that they will stop, which extends past the scheduled Sept. 6 end of the federal pandemic unemployment programs, Indiana Department of Workforce Development spokesman Scott Olson said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb decided to withdraw Indiana from the programs in mid-May, but a Marion County judge ruled that Indiana law requires the state to procure all available federal unemployment benefits for residents.

The state resumed making the payments in July after an Indiana Court of Appeals panel turned down the state’s request to immediately block the order.

A different appeals court panel, however, overturned that judge’s decision in a 3-0 ruling released Tuesday, finding that the federal pandemic unemployment programs were intended to be temporary and differed from the already existing unemployment benefits system.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of several unemployed workers and the group Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, also forced the state to resume its participation in federal programs that makes gig workers and the self-employed eligible for assistance for the first time and another that provides extra weeks of aid.

Holcomb sought to withdraw the state from all those programs, saying Indiana businesses had many job openings they were struggling to fill.

Holcomb praised the appeals court ruling, saying it confirmed he acted properly by withdrawing from the optional federal programs.

“These programs assisted Hoosiers in a time when some businesses were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holcomb said in a statement. “Since that time, businesses are adapting so that they can remain open while maintaining a safe environment. Currently, Indiana has more than 143,000 job openings and I know there are even more out there.”

More than two dozen Republican-led states terminated early their involvement in the federal programs that Congress adopted in March 2020 to support workers affected by the pandemic.

The $300 payments have more than doubled Indiana’s average $280 weekly unemployment payment, which has a maximum of $390 a week. Nearly 170,000 people in Indiana collected the extra $300 payments before Holcomb announced the state’s withdrawal in May, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Development.

State officials have said those collecting the extra payments would not be asked to refund the money regardless of the outcome of the legal fight.

Attorneys who filed the lawsuit against the state didn’t immediately comment on the appeals court’s ruling.

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