Arkansas Judge Restores $300 Pandemic Jobless Benefit Boost

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 31, 2021 Updated: July 31, 2021

An Arkansas judge on Thursday ordered the state to resume paying the $300 supplemental federal pandemic jobless benefit that the state’s governor blamed for fueling a hiring crunch and decided to end early.

In granting the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction that reinstates the federal jobless compensation boost, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright Jr. expressed “serious doubts” whether Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had the authority to end the benefit early, according to a July 28 order (pdf).

Hutchinson, a Republican, in May announced that the state would end its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program on June 26, citing business hiring difficulties.

“The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose,” Hutchinson said in a statement at the time. “Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”

The plaintiffs—five Arkansas residents—sued Hutchinson and the Arkansas Director of Workforce Services, arguing they lacked the authority to end the state’s participation in the federal program ahead of its scheduled termination date in September.

The judge agreed, arguing in the order that such decisions would normally be the subject of legislation from the Arkansas state legislature and that the plaintiffs have a “reasonable likelihood of success on the merits and are likely to suffer harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction.”

The Arkansas ruling came on the same day that an Ohio judge rejected a similar bid to reinstate the $300 pandemic jobless benefit top-up.

In the Ohio ruling (pdf), Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbrook said his decision to deny plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction was “not one that can be taken lightly” but that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine acted within his authority when he opted out of the federal program.

“The court is aware of, and sympathetic to, the thousands of Ohioans without work and in desperate need of any assistance available,” Holbrook wrote, but “the court simply cannot legislate from the bench and overlook the clear terms” of Ohio law.

DeWine and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said in a statement they were pleased with the decision.

“We have heard over and over again from employers who can’t find workers to fill open positions, and this policy helps both employers and workers,” they said. “As a result of the tough decisions we have made, Ohio’s recovery is strong, unemployment claims are declining, and Ohio’s unemployment rate is below the national average.”

Around two dozen states have decided to end their participation in the FPUC program, with governors nearly universally arguing that the extra benefit—which is over and above state unemployment compensation—discouraged workers from taking jobs and so hurt businesses.

While lawsuits have been filed in a number of states over the early opt-out, efforts to reinstate the $300 weekly boost have so far succeeded only in Indiana, Maryland, and Arkansas.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'