Judge orders Arkansas to resume pandemic unemployment benefits

Judge orders Arkansas to resume pandemic unemployment benefits
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A judge has ordered Arkansas to resume federal pandemic unemployment benefits a month after the state stopped providing the extra relief.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday, ordering the state to resume its participation if the government will “agree to permit the State to do so.”

“If the appropriate federal authorities reject such a reinstatement, the State will immediately provide proof of such communication to the Court,” Wright said.

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The Hill has reached out to Gov. Asa HutchinsonAsa HutchinsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Biden's .5 trillion plan will likely have to shrink Sunday shows - Manchin says he won't vote for .5 trillion bill GOP governor: Biden's vaccine mandate 'increases the division' MORE's (R) office for comment. 

The group Legal Aid of Arkansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of five citizens in the local court last Friday seeking to enjoin the state from terminating pandemic-related unemployment programs.

Hutchinson announced in May that the state would end its participation in the unemployment programs on June 26. In a letter to the state’s Division of Workforce Services, Hutchinson said such aid “actually interferes” with the ability to fill over 40,000 vacant jobs in the state.

The plaintiffs argued that Hutchinson lacked the legal authority to terminate the state’s participation in the program. A hearing was held Wednesday morning.

In his ruling, Wright acknowledged that such participation was voluntary, but he had “serious doubts that the Governor and the Director of Workforce Services were acting within the scope of their duties” when terminating the programs.

Kevin De Liban, Legal Aid of Arkansas's director of advocacy, said in an emailed statement “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 of early last month, half of U.S. states—led by Republican governors—had announced plans to cut off federal unemployment, arguing that such benefits were causing people to chose not to work.

Similar legal decisions aimed at restarting the cut-off aid have been made in Indiana and Maryland, according to CBS News.