Franklin County judge wants to reinstate $300 in weekly pandemic unemployment benefits—but can’t
CINCINNATI (Enquirer) - Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook says he wants to reinstate $300 in weekly federal pandemic unemployment benefits for Ohioans, but his hands are tied, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.
“I so badly want to issue the order but I am bound by the rules and I do not have the authority to do so,” Holbrook said Friday evening. “It’s with the Supreme Court now.”
On Thursday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which blocked Holbrook from taking action to reinstate federal unemployment benefits that Gov. Mike DeWine ended early.
DeWine halted the payments on June 26, months before the federal benefits were set to expire on Labor Day.
But Holbrook said that unemployed Ohioans are hurting and the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going away.
“I can’t do anything about it. I wish I could,” he said. “I can only hope that people think because there are people hurting.”
However, the DeWine administration does not intend to reinstate the benefits because Ohioans concerned about contracting COVID-19 at work have an alternative: the vaccines.
“The payments were put in place because of concern that people might be forced even though it might specifically endanger their health,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said Friday. “It’s just a different phase of the pandemic.”
Tierney pointed out that President Joe Biden’s administration is ending the benefits on Sept. 6 so the only disagreement is the date.
Lawsuit appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court
The benefits have been the subject of a lawsuit brought by former Ohio attorney general Marc Dann to reinstate them.
“These are not pawns on a political chessboard,” Dann said of Ohioans seeking benefits. “This involved 200,000 people who are struggling every day to solve the kinds of problems that all of us have to solve.”
Holbrook initially ruled that DeWine had the power to halt those payments. On Tuesday, the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled DeWine didn’t have the authority to cut off the benefits.
The appeals court also asked Holbrook to consider two additional factors: unjustifiable harm to third parties or any public interest served by restoring the benefits.
Holbrook set a hearing on those topics for Friday morning. In the meantime, the state appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers wrote to the top court: “There is no point in letting it percolate any longer before the lower courts: the court can put this important issue to rest, giving the state, would-be beneficiaries, and employers certainty as to the scope of their rights and duties.”
Who benefits or is hurt by the extra payments?
Despite the possibility of the Ohio Supreme Court weighing in, Holbrook listened to testimony about possible harm to third parties and the public interest served by these pandemic unemployment benefits for much of Friday.
Who might be harmed if benefits were restored? Johnson Brothers Rubber Company President Ken Bostic said he was struggling to hire employees starting at $14 an hour. The 25 vacancies at his business are threatening his ability to serve customers and keep his business in Ohio.
“Right now, I’m waiting on a Mexican temp service agency to be honest with you to see if they can help me,” Bostic said. “If they can’t help me, the first of September, I’m just going to start telling people I can’t service them.”
Who would be helped? Three Ohioans shared their struggles with losing $300 in weekly benefits. They had used that money to pay rent, utilities and child care.
Sebastian Nash, of Dublin, said he’s applied to more than 40 jobs since June 1 but has received no job offers. Without the additional $300 in benefits, Nash said he receives $159 each week from unemployment.
“It’s been difficult to move forward when I’m concerned financially,” Nash said.
Zach Schiller, research director with liberal think tank Policy Matters Ohio, testified that businesses would actually benefit because Ohioans receiving benefits would spend them immediately in their local economies.
Experts argued whether cutting off businesses led more Ohioans to return to work. Schiller said Ohioans have not returned to work because of a variety of reasons, including concerns about their health amid a continuing pandemic and a lack of child care.
“There is not harm to Ohio employers for the benefit to be reinstated,” testified Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. He said that halting the additional $300 in benefits did not lead to a surge of Ohioans returning to work.
Michael Stein, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, argued the opposite, saying that generous unemployment benefits would keep Ohioans from returning to work. The full effect of ending the $300 in weekly unemployment benefits early could take several months to see in economic data.
“Unemployment compensation benefits that are higher than what is necessary harm the economy,” Assistant Ohio Attorney General Julie Pfeiffer said. “That is not in the public interest.”
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.
Copyright 2021 Enquirer. All rights reserved.