Joint civil lawsuit filed against Governor Holcomb’s move to end extended unemployment benefits

Central Indiana News

INDIANAPOLIS — Two organizations, including a provider of free legal assistance, have filed a joint lawsuit against Governor Eric Holcomb’s move to end Indiana’s extended unemployment benefits on June 19.

Indiana Legal Services is filing the lawsuit in conjunction with Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer law firm.

In a release, the joint civil lawsuit claimed that ending the benefits “would cause irreparable harm to individual clients and a group of local clergy named in the suit and, by default, all Hoosiers across the state. The legal challenge is based on Indiana law 22-4-37-1 that requires the state to procure all available federal insurance benefits to citizens.”

“There’s a state statute that provides that if there are funds in the federal unemployment trust fund that it’s the policy of the state to go get those benefits for eligible Hoosiers,” said Jennifer Terry, staff attorney for Indiana Legal Services.

Jon Laramore, executive director of ILS, said, “These benefits have provided life-sustaining and crucial assistance to many Hoosiers during the pandemic.” He continued, “The legislature passed a law creating a right to these benefits, and we’re asking Governor Holcomb to follow the law.”

“You got people who are going to be facing evictions,” said Rev. David Greene Sr., president of Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. “Do I go take this job that’s going to be 20 hours a week?”

Greene’s group teamed up with five Hoosiers who are set to lose their unemployment benefits to file the lawsuit.

“There are a lot more minorities, African-Americans, that are unemployed that are adversely impacted,” Rev. Greene said.

Governor Holcomb stated in an Indianapolis Star article that the COVID-related extended unemployment benefits were no longer needed because there are 116,000 jobs available.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon in response to the lawsuit, the governor’s office said, “The Department of Workforce Development worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to properly complete all required steps to end its participation in federally funded pandemic unemployment insurance programs this month.

“DWD has timely notified impacted claimants about the state’s withdrawal from the federal programs and continues to connect impacted Hoosiers with the resources they need to gain skills and be matched with employment.”

ILS said a study by The Century Foundation contradicts the governor’s take, saying that cutting benefits would affect more than 286,000 people in Indiana — which is 170,000 more people than available jobs.

The study also found ending the benefits would result in a forfeiture of $1.5 billion by the state that otherwise would’ve been spent locally on rent, utilities, groceries, transportation and more to boost our economy.

“This pandemic has been tough on everyone, and we’re not out of the woods yet. A saving grace for many of my clients has been the expanded unemployment benefits offered by the federal government. They’ve provided a lifeline while Hoosiers recover from the unprecedented pandemic,” said Jeffrey Macey, partner at Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer and co-counsel for the case.

“Our firm is extremely gratified to be able to assist Indiana Legal Services and the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis in preserving these benefits for our neighbors in need.”

ILS and Macey Swanson Hicks & Sauer say while the Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported the April unemployment rate statewide is 4.2%. Counties like Marion (5.3%), Howard (6%), and Lake (7.6%) are experiencing higher-than-average unemployment rates.

“Our clients face obstacles, such as disproportionate unemployment rates, unequal job opportunities, and some are also impacted by the CDC eviction moratorium ending on June 30,” said Jennifer Terry, ILS staff attorney and co-counsel for the case. “Taking away federally funded benefits that Indiana officials have the infrastructure to provide through September will hurt our clients and the communities they live in.”

Co-counsels for the case have asked the judge to accept a preliminary injunction which would allow people to receive their benefits while the case continues.

Since the governor announced the end of the unemployment benefits last month, lawmakers have been divided on its impact.

“I think that was an unwise political decision, and it’s not a very good human decision for the individuals that are affected,” said State Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis).

While Democrats argue pulling the benefits will make some problems worse, Republicans have shown support for the governor’s decision.

“There’s a lot of hope that as the additional federal benefit sunsets, that that’ll bring people back into the workforce,” House Speaker Todd Huston said last week before the lawsuit was filed. “I think that’s critical.”

The lawsuit has been filed in Marion County Superior Court. It’s unclear when the case might get a hearing.

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