Judge Opposes Republican Governor, Orders State To Resume Federal Unemployment Benefits

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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An Oklahoma judge is ordering the state’s Republican governor to reinstate unemployment benefits that conservatives argue are harming the nation’s post-pandemic recovery.

Oklahoma County District Judge Anthony L. Bonner Jr. issued a preliminary injunction Friday directing Gov. Kevin Stitt and Employment Security Commission director Shelley Zumwalt to notify the federal Labor Department that the state will once again allow unemployed residents to accept $300 a week in additional benefits.

Stitt ended the federal government’s expanded unemployment benefits in June, instead offering Oklahomans $1,200 for participating in the state’s Right to Work Initiative. At 3.7%, Oklahoma boasted the country’s eighth-lowest unemployment rate in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (RELATED: US Economy Added Whopping 943,000 Jobs In July As Recovery Accelerates)

In response to the ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a motion on Monday requesting that the state Supreme Court prohibit Bonner from maintaining his order.

“Gov. Stitt fully supports the Attorney General’s actions today and eagerly awaits the results of Wednesday’s case before the Supreme Court,” communications director Carly Atchison told the Daily Caller.

Nearly two million Americans put off searching for a job due to increased unemployment benefits, which totaled nearly $20 an hour at the height of the pandemic, a Morning Consult poll conducted in June found. However, as Republican-led states began phasing out enhanced benefits included in the American Rescue Plan (ARP), unemployed people once again began searching for jobs.

Economist Brian Riedl told the Daily Caller in May that a slow recovery due to increased unemployment benefits was a likely consequence of the ARP.

“Economic literature has suggested for decades that overly generous unemployment benefits drive up unemployment rates and delay the getting of new jobs. We’ll have a chance to test that theory with the states that are going to reject the unemployment benefits. I suspect that the economic consensus is correct, and we will see more job gains in the states that are not paying as large of an unemployment bonus,” he said at the time.

At least 26 states have phased out the ARP’s expanded unemployment benefits.