Oklahoma judge orders state to resume federal unemployment benefits

An Oklahoma judge on Friday ordered the state to resume paying the supplemental $300 federal unemployment benefit it had discontinued earlier this summer.

The Oklahoman reported that District Judge Anthony Bonner Jr. issued a preliminary injunction ordering the state to notify the Labor Department to reinstate and administer federal unemployment benefits provided for as part of Congress's coronavirus relief efforts.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) had discontinued the coronavirus-related federal unemployment boost in June, arguing, like many in the GOP, that the benefits were disincentivizing unemployed people from reentering the workforce — a claim Democrats and a number of economists pushed back on. At the time of his decision, Stitt had also announced a one-time $1,200 return-to-work incentive payment.

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Apart from the $300 supplemental payments, Bonner's order also restored an extension on unemployment benefits beyond the 26-week cutoff; unemployment benefits to those who normally would not qualify, such as gig workers and self-employed individuals; and an additional $100 a week for those who earned at least $5,000 in self-employed income in the most recent taxable year.

Bonner prohibited the state from withdrawing from the program until he issues a final order or until the program expires in September, The Oklahoman reported. Bonner said that he will provide a more detailed order on Monday.

Several workers had brought forward lawsuits challenging Stitt's decision, arguing that he did not have the authority to cut off benefits before their set expiration date.

Governors in more than half the states have moved to end pandemic benefits under the argument that they are keeping people from rejoining the workforce.

In Indiana, residents also sued Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) in June for his decision to end supplemental unemployment benefits. In their suit, the Indiana residents argued that Holcomb had violated state law that requires officials to "procure all available federal insurance benefits to citizens."