CLEVELAND — It's been nearly two weeks since Ohio stopped participating in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Since then, thousands of Ohioans have stopped getting an extra $300 in their unemployment checks to make ends meet.
“We think that violates Ohio's statute,” said Marc Dann, managing partner of Dann Law and Advocate Attorneys.
Dann, who is also a former Ohio attorney general, filed a lawsuit in a Cuyahoga County court against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services director Matt Damschroder.
It argues that getting rid of the extra payments is against Ohio unemployment law.
“Ohio has a statute as part of its unemployment law that says the governor and the director of ODJFS are required to obtain from the federal government the maximum amount of money that's available for Ohioans who have unemployment insurance,” said Dann.
Dann and his team are asking for the judge to restore the payments while the case goes through the legal process.
He said some of his clients have health problems preventing them from going back to work and more people are now reaching out.
“We've received dozens of emails and phone calls from people around the state who are really facing serious displacement from their prior employment,” said Dann. “Jobs that they had before just no longer exist. So they're going to have to retrain for something else. And so it's not as simple as just applying for a job and walking in the door.”
But on the flip side, some feel DeWine's decision to stop the payments was the right move.
John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, says, "The industry lost, this is across the United States, $290 billion dollars since the pandemic."
Barker said now the industry is hoping to make up for those losses, but even though customers have returned, hiring has been slow. Barker said the organization reached out to its members to get to the bottom of the issues.
“What kept coming back to us is, ‘We can't open up our restaurants on certain days. We can't open up on certain shifts. We're shutting down at lunch.’ And we said, ‘Why?’ And they said, ‘Because we don't have staff,’” said Barker. “And we said, ‘So what are the issues?’ What they told us was many of their former employees said there's no reason to come back to work because, 'I'm fine with the federal unemployment.' So that's how that all started.”
Barker said the organization relayed that information to DeWine’s office, which then began asking other industries how they were doing.
“It was the same feedback that people were getting everywhere,” said Barker.
Now that the FPUC program has ended in Ohio, Barker said things are improving.
“The last week, as we've talked to operators around the state, they are saying the applicant pool is starting to increase, which was really good news for everybody," Barker said.bBut he believes a reversal by a judge could stop all that.
“Hope not to see that because we're just now beginning to see a little positive momentum,” said Barker.
The first hearing in this case is set for July 21.
Dann said there are multiple options for the outcome of the hearing.
“Choice A would be to issue an injunction that says that the governor is prohibited from refusing that money going forward,” said Dann. “The second thing we've asked them to do is we filed something called a writ of mandamus, and that's a statutory and constitutional provision that requires that any citizen of the state can petition the court to order a government official like Governor DeWine and Director Damshroder to execute a clear legal duty that they have.”
If those motions are denied, Dann said they would consider an appeal or bring a separate suit against the state to recover the unemployment payments people lost.
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