- The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Lawsuits seeking to preserve pandemic-era unemployment benefits are increasing as states across the country seek to halt the federal payments so residents will go back to work.

More than two dozen states have sought to upend the federal unemployment payments of $300 a week that Congress extended earlier this year through Sept. 6.

But at least six of the states are facing lawsuits over their moves, and two judges have been sympathetic to the claims thus far.

The latest legal case was filed in Florida this week against state officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced in May that his state would stop distributing the federal super-charged monthly payments.

“Each of the Plaintiffs have suffered economic hardships because of COVID, have had difficulty finding work and now, with the discontinuation of the [Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation], face even more pressing financial hardships,” the 15-page lawsuit read.

The complaint was filed in Broward County, Florida, by 10 residents who all said they either lost work or can’t find employment due to the pandemic.

Heather Fulop, one of the plaintiffs, is a single mother who worked as a nurse in a hospital’s NICU, but lost her hours due to the pandemic. Gia Cuccaro, another plaintiff, can’t find work as a paralegal and is about to be evicted.

The lawsuit charges that Florida officials are running afoul of state law by not working with the U.S. Labor Department to funnel the money to residents in need.

A spokesperson at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which is a named defendant in the lawsuit, said the agency “contests the alleged violation of law.”

The department implemented a “Return to Work” initiative, which included ending participation in the federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Florida’s unemployment rate of 5% is lower than the national average of 5.9%.

The governor, meanwhile, previously said he ended federal unemployment because it was time for people to get back on their feet after the 2020 crisis.

“We got almost half a million job openings in the state of Florida,” Mr. DeSantis said at a press conference last month.

One of the plaintiffs in the Florida case, Luisa Cocozelli, has been out of work due to the cruise industry not being back up and running with passengers.

Mr. DeSantis is suing the federal government to get the cruise ships back in business. A federal appeals court lifted the COVID requirements last week, allowing Florida cruises to get back on the water without meeting various hurdles set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other legal battles over ending unemployment have been filed in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Maryland and Indiana.

A judge in Baltimore issued an injunction earlier this month, preventing the state of Maryland from ending federal unemployment benefits related to the coronavirus pandemic. And a judge in Indiana also ordered that state to restart the $300 payments.

Though the different lawsuits are moving through various states, Scott Behren, who represents the Florida plaintiffs, said he doubts the issue will end up before the Supreme Court.

“It’s really a question of state law,” he said. 

Corrected from an earlier version: The extra $300 in unemployment benefits is on a weekly, not monthly basis.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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