OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The battle over extra federal unemployment took center stage at Oklahoma Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission cut off the extra money in late June.
There have been multiple lawsuits filed trying to reinstate that federal money. Last Friday, a district judge ruled in one of the cases to reinstate the payments. But over the weekend, the OESC tried to block the order.
So, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments as OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt sues the district judge to halt his ruling. The court also heard another case that could possibly settle the argument once and for all.
“The Governor and Zumwalt had no authority to discontinue those benefits,” said Chad Smith, an attorney.
Attorneys argued as Zumwalt tries to halt District Judge Anthony Bonner Jr.’s ruling that extra federal unemployment benefits should be reinstated for Oklahomans.
“This is entirely confusing which is why that order should be stayed until we can figure out the mechanics or even if this statute applies at all,” said State Attorney Andy Ferguson.
The two sides are making their cases in front of a Supreme Court referee which will then take their argument to the entire Supreme Court for a ruling. The state is accused by some of trying to keep the battle tied up in court past the September 6th cutoff, but Zumwalt’s office made the following statement on Wednesday:
“Upon receiving the ruling last week, the agency complied with the judge’s ruling and immediately notified the U.S. Department of Labor. Since then OESC has been in constant communication with DOL. As the agency waits to hear any potential rulings from the Court, we are continuing to prepare for any potential outcomes in order to best serve Oklahomans in a transparent and timely manner.”OFFICE OF SHELLEY ZUMWALT, OESC DIRECTOR
One unemployed Oklahoman doesn’t know what the hold up is.
“I don’t see why the governor is gonna block what another judge has already ruled in order to reinstate it, when he has no jurisdiction whatsoever,” said Ronald Branson of Shawnee.
The governor is not part of that suit, but he was named in another suit argued Wednesday in the State Supreme Court.
“The governor’s argument is, ‘I’m the governor and I can do what I want,’ and that’s untrue,” said plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Hammons.
Attorneys argued a separate case before that same State Supreme Court referee, Wednesday, that those federal unemployment benefits were illegally ended.
“These are optional programs under federal law. If we didn’t have the ability to leave, then none of these benefits are valid from the beginning,” said Ferguson.
Once again, this case too will then be taken to the entire Supreme Court for a ruling. Attorneys for the unemployed hope it will result in getting back some of the money lost.
“The unemployment system has a procedure where people who are denied benefits, or are not given the proper amount of benefits, can get those retroactively. That’s what we are hoping will happen,” said Hammons.
One of the plaintiffs in the case against Stitt is an unemployed healthcare worker who is also a single mother of five.
“I’m very hopeful. I think a lot of people are going to be in a much better spot soon,” said Michella Stewart.
Attorneys for the state in both cases and the Governor’s Office say they stand behind arguments made in court on Wednesday.
With the federal unemployment benefits set to expire September 6, the court referee said he knows the timeliness of the matter and so does the Supreme Court. A ruling in both cases should come soon.