Judge debating on whether Gov. Stitt had power to end federal benefits for Oklahomans early


OKLAHOMA COUNTY (KFOR) – The fight against Oklahoma’s decision to end the $300 of federal extended unemployment benefits early had its official day in court Thursday, after Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Oklahoma was withdrawing from the program back in June.

“These people need money,” said Brendan McHugh, co-council for the petitioners. “It’s really something that affects people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.”

McHugh is representing a number of people who filed a lawsuit against the state ending the federal unemployment benefits early. He argues some 74,000 Oklahomans are still relying on the extra $300 a week.

Back in May, Stitt argued the added benefits were keeping some off the job. He announced federal benefits would be ending three months early, while also offering a $1,200 back-to-work incentive.

“The federal government has created an incentive to stay at home inside of getting back into the work force,” the governor said during a press conference in May.

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Gov. Kevin Stitt

“If that’s the case, why are we doing this program if our unemployment is better than the national average,” said McHugh.

McHugh and his team are arguing the decision to dip out should’ve been up to the state legislature.

“In my mind, legislature means Oklahoma congress law signed by the governor,” said the attorney. “Where does the governor have the power to end the program?”

Inside the courtroom Thursday, Lawyers for the state argued the announcement was made six weeks before the benefits ended, well over the required 30-day window.

They also argued the lawsuit came too late and jumping back into the program at this stage wouldn’t be worth it.

Shelley Zumwalt, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, didn’t take questions on the legal matter. Instead, she provided News 4 with this on-camera statement.

“Considering the judge’s ruling today, and what he said in the court room, OESC will continue to help claimants find reemployment opportunities, and we encourage everyone to apply for our $1,200 back to work incentive,” she said.

Judge Anthony Bonner said he would have a decision made by 5 p.m. on Friday.

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