Indiana may be forced to reinstate federal unemployment benefits following a hearing in Superior Court on Wednesday where groups argued for an emergency injunction to stop the state from ending those benefits.
Jennifer Terry, attorney with Indiana Legal Services, told Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley that federal benefits were like a car that the state has already built and is fueled by money from the federal government. But state leaders decided to throw away the keys. She argued that Indiana employment law mandates that all rights and benefits of federal law must be given to workers and employers.
"Frankly judge, these unemployment benefits are keeping the claimants out of poverty," Terry said, pointing to language in state law declaring economic insecurity due to unemployment a "serious menace" to health, morale and welfare to citizens.
But the law Terry cited was merely “aspirational language,” said Jefferson Garn, a lawyer from the attorney general's office. The state's legal team argued how to handle federal money is a decision best left to policymakers, not the courts. They added that the state has now ended its agreement with the federal Department of Labor, and they’re not even sure if benefits can be extended.
"It's in the state's best interest to discontinue the benefits," Garn said, arguing that bringing back federal unemployment benefits could "stunt the stabilization" of the state's economy as it tries to emerge from the pandemic.
After the roughly hour-long hearing, Hanley said he would issue a decision on a possible injunction as soon as possible.
Before the hearing, the state's legal team asked to delay the injunction debate, but was denied. It also submitted a request to change judges.