Virus Outbreak Unemployment Fraud

A man walks past a “Now Hiring” sign on a window at a Sherwin Williams store, Feb. 26, in Woodmere Village, Ohio.

Days before the benefits are set to expire, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with Gov. Mike DeWine in a case questioning his power over unemployment payments, declining a motion for a quicker decision.

Ohio residents Shawnee Huff, Candy Bowling and David Willis sued the DeWine administration after he announced the state would no longer be participating in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, funded through the CARES Act.

DeWine justified ending the supplemental unemployment, which was created due to the economic damage the COVID-19 pandemic had inflicted on the country and the state, by saying the $300 weekly addition made Ohioans less likely to want to go back to work.

“He cited ‘positive trends’ in the Ohio economy, including ‘a current low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent’ and the increasing number of vaccinations in the state,” the Tenth District Court of Appeals wrote in their own decision in the case on Aug. 24.

The Ohio residents filing the lawsuit against DeWine said they used the standard unemployment benefits, along with the supplemental benefits, for household expenses like rent, food and medical expenses after being laid off from their jobs.

They argued DeWine had overstepped his authority by cutting off the federal funds from getting to Ohioans, and that the extra funds would boost the state economy by $98 million.

Attorneys for DeWine said reversing his decision would “interfere” with the governor’s abilities and the economy would not be strengthened by stopping his plan to end a “labor shortage” allegedly created by the unemployment benefits.

A trial court denied Huff, Bowling and Willis’ request to stop DeWine’s decision, but the court of appeals reversed the decision and denied a motion by DeWine’s lawyers to dismiss the case. From there, DeWine appealed to the state’s highest court.

“Governor Mike DeWine identified a governmental policy that contributed to this worker shortage,” state Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers said in their appeal to the Supreme Court, on behalf of DeWine. “The unemployed, for over a year, had been receiving hundreds of dollars a week through a federal program, decreasing their incentive to take new jobs.”

All the while, the Sept. 6 deadline for the end to additional unemployment benefits was getting closer. The residents asking for the unemployment benefits asked for the court to hurry with their decision in light of the upcoming benefits expiration date.

In fact, Justice Jennifer Brunner argued that DeWine appealed the decision because the time it would take for the courts to settle the matter would run out the clock.

“It is also clear that appellant Governor Mike DeWine has sought refuge from that apparent eventuality by appealing to this court to delay this matter past September 6, 2021, the date on which the federal benefits that appellees seek will expire,” Brunner wrote.

But a majority of the highest court still denied the rushed decision to allow the benefits for the Ohioans. Brunner dissented in part, but agreed with the majority decision and said the court should have provided “guidance” to the lower court on how to decide whether the state should release unemployment benefits in the case.

Justice Patrick DeWine recused himself from the case “to avoid any appearance of impropriety that might result from my father’s public involvement in this matter.” Justice Melody Stewart opposed the denial of the motion.

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