Lawsuit filed against Gov. Stitt, OESC over Federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It’s been nearly two months since Governor Stitt ended extra unemployment benefits. Now several Oklahomans are fighting back. They want those cutoff benefits reinstated.

So far 26 states have cut the extra 300 dollars early.

Critics of the move say it affects some 74-thousand Oklahomans, and costs the state 20-million dollars a week in lost federal dollars.

“One moment I had until September to try to find a job that would support us and feed my kids and keep a roof over our heads and all of a sudden my state is telling me that I’m lazy and its time to get of my backside and get back to work,” said Michella Stewart.

The single mother of five and former home health worker has been unemployed since March of last year.

She says the extra 300 dollars a week in federal pandemic unemployment benefits in the only way she can make ends meet.

“How long before my lights are off and DHS is knocking on my door saying I’m an unfit parent,” said Stewart.

She says that’s why she joined a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County court suing the Governor and the OESC to reinstate the extra federal benefits that were cut at the end of June.

“They are supposed to provide the maximum amount of benefits available,” said Mark Hammons.

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Gov. Kevin Stitt

Hammons is the attorney that filed the suit. He says the OESC as at fault for violating the State Employment Security Act and the Governor is violating law by issuing the order without putting the changes through the state legislature.

“The Governor doesn’t have the authority, he is on bad legal grounds,” said Hammons.

KFOR reached out to the Governor’s office. They say they can’t comment on pending litigation. News 4 got the same response from the OESC.

This week, the Biden administration saying that States that have terminated pandemic unemployment benefits early can restart the programs until the September 6th federal cut off.

So far, five states, including Oklahoma, have filed unemployment suits against their Governors.

Judges in Indiana and Maryland have already ruled to reinstate federal benefits. Hammons says that’s a good sign for his suit.

“Employment security acts are pretty much the same from state to state. That common language has been construed consistently to provide for maximum benefits for those who are unemployed,” said Hammons.

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Hammons say they are hoping to regain all the federal dollars lost since June 27.

A hearing is scheduled for August 11, Hammons hopes it will be in front of the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.

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