A group of 10 Oklahomans is asking the state Supreme Court to order Gov. Kevin Stitt to resume unemployment benefits aimed at those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a brief filed Monday, attorney Mark Hammons argues Stitt did not have the authority to stop offering four federal unemployment programs after June 26 through an executive order, and is asking the state’s high court to order the state to resume offering the benefits.
“The governor of Oklahoma is not king. He’s the governor, he doesn’t have all power,” Hammons told News 9 shortly after filing. “It’s important that the governor understand that he is supposed to be a servant of the people, not just go out on some direction because he thinks it’s a good idea.”
The programs affected are Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC); Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC).
The programs are set to expire in September. Stitt’s order ended the benefits about 10 weeks early and said businesses are open, so there are job opportunities in the state.
“The federal government has started creating an incentive to stay at home instead of getting back into the workforce,” Stitt said at a May press conference.
Although there are only 10 plaintiffs officially listed in the case, Hammons said they are representatives of more than 70,000 Oklahomans impacted by the sudden stop of unemployment benefits.
“People have been going back to work. To say that there are jobs out there doesn’t mean that there are jobs out where the unemployed people are located,” Hammons said.
In place of the benefits, Stitt announced a one-time $1,200 payment to a maximum of 20,000 people who returned to work after receiving benefits from a unemployment program. To be eligible for the payment, a person must have filed for a program between May 2 and 15 and must provide pay stubs for six weeks of consecutive employment.
As of Tuesday, about 10,000 people have applied for the one-time payment. Only about 2,000 are eligible, according to OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt. The commission is reviewing eligible applicants and will begin issuing payments on Thursday, she said.
When asked for a comment on Hammons’ filing, Zumwalt and a spokesperson for Stitt both said they do not speak on pending litigation.
Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for August 11 in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.