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Government/Politics

State Supreme Court hears lawsuit on early end for $300 weekly checks for unemployed Ohioans

 A gavel commissioned by the Ohio State Bar Association sits outside the Ohio Supreme Court building in downtown Columbus
Dan Konik
/

Did Gov. Mike DeWine had the authority to cut off $300 weekly checks to unemployed Ohioans on June 26, two months before the federal program that funded them ended last Labor Day? The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments on that case today from the state and a former attorney general representing hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed during the pandemic.

Michael Hendershot from the Ohio Attorney General’s office represented DeWine. He told the justices businesses that were having trouble hiring asked DeWine to stop the checks, which he said were paid for with COVID relief money from the federal CARES Act the state wasn’t required to accept.

“Federal law gives the option to the states to not participate, to participate, to participate and withdraw," Hendershot said.

Hendershot said the state is required to accept funding under five federal programs, but the CARES Act isn't one of them.

But former attorney general Marc Dann, representing those who were receiving the checks, said this is about separation of powers of the governor and lawmakers.

“Under Ohio’s constitution, the people of Ohio granted the legislature the exclusive authority to make laws providing for the welfare of Ohio’s workforce," Dann said.

Dann said some 300,000 Ohioans who were or are jobless could get a total of $900 million federal dollars, which he says is still available.

Around half of all states - most run by Republicans, but one Democratic state - ended those checks last year in June or July.

Unemployment had skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic as businesses were ordered to shut down. The week of March 22, 2020, a record 272,117 Ohioans filed unemployment claims. In April 2020, the state's unemployment rate was 16.8%, up from 5.5% the month before.

But by last May, when DeWine announced the checks would end, the unemployment rate was at 5%, and weekly jobless filings averaged around 16,200 for that month. The state's unemployment rate was 4% for April 2022.

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