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Lawsuits & Litigation

Texas Residents Sue Gov. Abbott for Ending Pandemic Unemployment Programs

— June 27, 2021

The lawsuit claim that Gov. Abbott lacked the authority to single-handedly terminate federal unemployment benefits.

A group of Texas residents have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who recently decided to decline further federal unemployment assistance.

That assistance, notes The Dallas Morning News, provides a significant $300-per-week boost for people who remain unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following Gov. Abbott’s decision, many Texas residents will not receive the boost; some people, such as self-employed workers and gig contractors, may no longer receive any benefits whatsoever.

A 2013 image of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Alice Linahan Voices Empower. (CCA-BY-2.0).

According to The Morning News, the plaintiffs met each other through Facebook support groups, identified as “Texas Unemployment Updates” and “Unemployment Petition and Peaceful Protests.”

Between them, the groups contain upwards of 30,000 members.

While they had initially requested a restraining order against Texas’s withdrawal from the federal pandemic unemployment programs, their request was denied Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, Travis County District Judge Dustin Howell did not respond to the Dallas Morning News’s request for comment on his ruling.

Attorney David Sibley, who is working with the Facebook groups, told the Dallas Morning News that he and his clients plan to continue their legal fight.

The lawsuit, broadly, alleges that the Texas state constitution does not give Gov. Abbott the authority to pull federal unemployment benefits unilaterally. Instead, the complaint claims, Gov. Abbott was obliged to wait for a report and decision from the Texas Workforce Commission, which is responsible for authorizing and paying unemployment benefits.

Abbott, states the lawsuit, ‘exceeded his power” by moving to cut benefits without first obtaining the Commission’s approval.

“Texas has what is known as a weak governor, and a large part of Texas is run by commissions,” Sibley told The Houston Chronicle. “We just believe the governor is acting outside of his authority, and it’s something the TWC should address.”

Gov. Abbott, notes Rolling Stone, decided to halt the federal unemployment programs under pressure from the Texas Association of Business, alongside dozens of other business groups. These groups claimed that continuing unemployment benefits “disincentivized” Texas residents from seeking employment.

In a statement, Abbott seemingly suggested that many unemployed people are avoiding work—and that available jobs are suitable for all who are currently unemployed.

“The number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits,” Abbott said, parroting a Republican talking point which suggests that people who receive unemployment will not want to work.

However, Rolling Stone observes that research—including a Morgan Stanley-commissioned report—shows otherwise, with Axios finding that unemployment benefits “are likely no more of a factor than other impediments to workplace re-entry,” such as the costs of transportation and health care.

Nevertheless, nearly one million Texans remain out of the job, with figures scarcely down from last April.


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