Judge orders state to return to supplemental unemployment program

by George Jared ([email protected]) 6,518 views 

Jobless workers who received supplemental unemployment benefits until Gov. Asa Hutchinson removed the state from the program could receive those benefits once more.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright on Wednesday (July 28) ruled the governor didn’t have the authority to order Arkansas’ Division of Workforce Services to terminate the state’s participation in the federally funded program, and that authority rests with the state legislature, per his ruling.

Hutchinson and other Republican governors exited the supplemental unemployment program in May on the premise that jobs were returning and employers were complaining the benefits were too generous and discouraged workers returning to the labor force. The move stopped the state’s participation in federal supplemental jobless benefits which provided an extra $300 a week to those who qualified.

At a press conference Thursday (July 29), Hutchinson was asked about the decision. He said he will consult with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and he thinks a “quick appeal” on the matter will be filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“I want to study the decision and see what the appropriate action is,” Hutchinson said.

The value of the reinstated benefits for the roughly 69,000 people who are eligible is estimated to be $30,316,945 per week, Legal Aid of Arkansas’s Director of Advocacy Kevin De Liban, told Talk Business & Politics. It’s still not clear if some or all of the benefits lost since the state’s participation in the program will be retroactively paid to those who are eligible.

Five Arkansans filed the lawsuit after they lost benefits through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) programs, according to Legal Aid.

“The five brave plaintiffs have helped about 69,000 other Arkansans today,” De Liban said. “Thanks to the ruling, people will now be able to get benefits to help them pay the rent, keep their lights on, have enough food to eat, and see the doctor while they continue their job searches.”

As with regular unemployment benefits, these federal benefits require recipients to be searching for work and accept any suitable work offered. Failure to do so results in termination of benefits, De Liban said.

“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,” said De Liban. “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.”

De Liban said he expects the federal government to allow the state to re-enter the program.

“Any state that has provided notice to the department of its intent to terminate any of the pandemic UI programs prior to the Sept. 6, 2021 end date may reinstitute participation in any or all programs it previously indicated it would be terminating.” (see page 7, section (f) of the linked Unemployment Insurance Program Letter). In such case, full federal funding will continue,” the U.S. Department of Labor stated.

When those weekly payments will start again and when or if retroactive payments will be made hasn’t been released.

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