Thousands of Texans sue Greg Abbott to keep enhanced unemployment benefits

Thousands of Texans sue Greg Abbott to keep enhanced unemployment benefits

Although enhanced unemployment benefits created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are due to expire in September, many Republican governors want to opt out of them before that — including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. But thousands of Texans, the Houston Chronicle reports, have filed a lawsuit against Abbott in the hopes of keeping those benefits in place until that September expiration.

Chronicle reporter Rebecca Carballo explains, "The plaintiffs, two groups that organized over Facebook with more than 30,000 people, argue that the decision to end the benefits early exceeded the governor's authority, according to the lawsuit, filed this week in state district court in Austin. The benefits, aimed at providing relief to workers during the pandemic, are scheduled to expire Saturday under Abbott's order…. Abbott, last month, ordered the early end to federal programs that provided supplemental payments of $300 a week to unemployed workers and extended jobless benefits to gig workers and other self-employed people not covered by the traditional unemployment system."

Abbott, Carballo notes, has "argued that job openings in the state are plentiful, and the additional benefits were no longer needed."

On June 25 a judge ruled against a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Abbott from ending the enhanced unemployment benefits in his state while the case is moving forward. But attorney David Sibley, who is representing thousands of Texans in the lawsuit, has said that the ruling by Judge Dustin Howell "does not mean the case is over."

Many Republicans, including Abbott, have been claiming that the enhanced unemployment benefits are too generous and discourage the unemployed from looking for work, thus hurting businesses. But liberal economists such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Robert Reich (former secretary of labor in the Clinton Administration) have long maintained that government assistance for the unemployed is helpful to the economy — not harmful. According to Krugman and Reich, giving the unemployed a hand up (as opposed to a handout) is stimulative because they are likely to spend that money immediately.

Carballo reports that in Texas, "The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Texas Workforce Commission to make the decision on whether and when to end the benefits. They acknowledge that the Workforce Commission could reach the same decision as the governor, but it would delay when the federal benefits would expire. The Workforce Commission recently ended guidance that allowed workers to refuse jobs if they believed COVID-19 would threaten their health or the health of their families."

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