In June 2021, Governor Mike DeWine ended Ohio’s participation in a federal pandemic unemployment assistance program ahead of the government’s deadline for stopping payments.
Lawyers for the Republican governor argue he had the legal authority to do so. People who lost extra benefits say DeWine didn’t and should have continued them.
The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday. A decision is not expected for weeks.
At issue in court is a weekly federal payment of $300 for Ohioans to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government ended this program on September 6, but DeWine stopped the payments on June 26, 2021, saying the need for the payments was over.
DeWine has followed the stance of business groups who have said the payments make it difficult to recruit employees, and he was not alone. More than two dozen other states, all with Republican governors and legislatures, began blocking payments around the same time.
Several courts have also supported early termination of payments. In August 2021, an Indiana court upheld Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to opt out of the program, saying federal pandemic unemployment programs were intended to be temporary and differed from the already existing unemployment benefits system. existing. However, payments continued because the decision was too close to the September 6 deadline to give recipients the required notice.
In October 2021, the South Carolina Supreme Court also dismissed a lawsuit against Governor Henry McMaster for his early exit from federal pandemic unemployment programs.
Critics of the end of payments in Ohio and elsewhere said workers had reasons why they might not return to work.
The program’s premature termination halted about $900 million in payments in Ohio. The two sides disagree on whether that money could still be paid out, should the court rule against DeWine.
The governor acted after hearing from companies that said they were unable to fill thousands of positions, Michael Hendershot, Ohio’s chief assistant attorney, told the judges on Wednesday.
“He thought overall, for the macro economy of the state, for the future of these companies, that was a decision he had to make,” Hendershot said.
Just because the government funneled pandemic dollars through Ohio doesn’t necessarily mean they’re available, he added.
The lawyer representing Ohio’s unemployed workers seeking the benefits disagreed, saying the governor was required under state law to get ‘all available benefits’ related to unemployment compensation. Attorney Marc Dann said this requirement makes Ohio’s situation different from other states where the termination has been confirmed.
DeWine was empowered to accept the benefits, “but he was not empowered to make the political decision to take them away,” said Dann, a former Democratic attorney general from Ohio.
Judge Patrick Fischer questioned whether the issue was moot so many months later, noting the governor didn’t have the money, and it’s unclear whether the US Department of Labor did either. .
Dann agreed that the governor didn’t have the money, but was obligated to provide it anyway.
“He acted without the constitutional and statutory authority to deny these funds,” Dann said. “As a result, these workers’ right to this money remains whether the federal government funds it or not.”
GOP Judge Patrick DeWine, the governor’s son, recused himself to avoid the appearance of impropriety “that may result from my father’s public involvement in this matter.”
In an unrelated pandemic issue, judges heard arguments on Wednesday in the case of season pass holders at amusement parks operated by Sandusky-based Cedar Fair, who say they must be refunded after closing parks in early 2020 due to the coronavirus.