Workers plan to sue Florida for ending unemployment early — part of a growing movement
Workers in Florida are the latest jobless Americans to sue their governors for opting out of unemployment programs earlier than the federal expiration in September.
Florida workers plan to file a lawsuit against Gov. Ron Desantis early next week, arguing the state has a statutory obligation to pay unemployed workers the additional $300 in weekly benefits funded by the federal government.
"Reinstating FPUC would help bolster Florida's economy, not hurt it," Vanessa Brito, an unemployment advocate working with lawyers to file the lawsuit, told Yahoo Money. "We are in the process of drafting the language and compiling a substantive list of claimants who have been harmed by the state’s decision to terminate the FPUC benefit program."
Workers in Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Texas have all filed similar lawsuits, with two of the states reinstating benefits at least temporarily.
Unemployed workers in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit this week against Gov. Kevin Stitt's decision to opt out of the federal programs, saying he doesn't have the authority to cancel the programs.
"The executive order issued by the governor is beyond the governor’s authority," Attorney Mark Hammons said in a statement to Yahoo Money. "State law doesn’t give him the power to control or determine benefits.”
Twenty-six states cut off the extra $300 in weekly benefits early, while 22 of them also canceled the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for workers who don’t normally qualify for regular unemployment insurance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program that provides extra weeks of benefits.
More than 4 million workers are affected by the cuts in those states, losing a total of $22.5 billion in potential benefits, according to estimates by the Century Foundation. Nearly 3 in 5 workers affected by the early expiration will be left with no benefits at all.
The lawsuits in Maryland and Indiana have been successful — at least temporarily — and benefits have been restarted. On Tuesday, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judged granted a preliminary induction against the governor.
"If the disincentive of unemployment benefits is real for some relatively small segment of the workforce, the cutoff of benefits would be real and immediate for almost all currently unemployed Marylanders," Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill wrote. "Not all of those workers will instantly move into new jobs, meaning uneven economic struggles at the individual level and an immediate loss of economic stimulus at the generalized level."
Last month, Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley temporarily reinstated the federal unemployment benefits programs in Indiana — the first state where workers filed a suit — until a final ruling is made in the case. The decision was affirmed by an appeal's court this week.
The success of those lawsuits may encourage workers in other states to file their own lawsuits, according to Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
"Indiana and Maryland are no worker's paradise when it comes to its unemployment law, but like most states, their laws direct the government to protect the unemployed from hardship and draw down federal aid to do so," he told Yahoo Money. "Legal actions in other states certainly have a chance at proceeding, and I'm hearing from frustrated unemployed workers across the country about their desires to join such suits."