The lawsuit suggests that Ohio law obliges the state to accept the maximum federal unemplomyent benefits afforded by the U.S. Department of Labor.
A pair of Cleveland-area attorneys have filed a lawsuit against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his decision to cut off federal pandemic unemployment benefits.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, unemployed Ohio residents were receiving $300 per week on top of their regular benefit. This amount was funded by the federal government. The same program also extended benefits to people who are not normally eligible for unemployment benefits, including gig workers and independent contractors.
While the benefits will automatically end by the first week of September, some 27 state governors—all conservatives—have moved to dissociate their states from the program even earlier.
Gov. DeWine—along with his Republican counterparts across the country—publicly opined that enhanced unemployment benefits were inhibiting the economy and incentivizing Americans to stay home rather than look for a job.
Patch.com observes that DeWine justified the decision by saying that pandemic unemployment assistance was always meant to be temporary.
“When this program was put in place, it was a lifeline for many Americans at a time when the only weapon we had in fighting the virus was to slow its spread through social distancing, masking, and sanitization,” Gov. DeWine said in May. “That is no longer the case.”
DeWine’s decision, notes the Dispatch, was supported by advocacy groups that represent predominately low-wage industries, like the Ohio Restaurant Association. In its own statement, the group said that the extra $300 per week—scarcely equivalent to the federal minimum wage, for somebody working 40 hours per week—was contributing to staffing shortages.
However, attorneys Marc Dann and Brian Flick of DannLaw allege that Gov. DeWine’s move was callous and “represents a willful and blatant violation of Ohio law.”
In their lawsuit, filed in a Cuyahogaa County court, Dann and Flick say that Ohio law obliges the state to accept the maximum benefit it can from the United States Department of Labor.
“Unless the Legislature changes the law, they need to accept these dollars and pass them on,” Dann said.
The Columbus Dispatch notes that Dann is a former state attorney general. He served in the post for one year before resigning over allegations of sexual impropriety.
The Ohio lawsuit is now one of several pending against Republican governors in different states. Similar complaints have been filed in Texas, Maryland, and Indiana.
“Indiana’s statutory language is very similar to Ohio’s,” Dann said. “We believe we are right on the law and absolutely right as it relates to public policy.”