Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has been named in a lawsuit by a Tulsa woman who is suing to continue receiving federal unemployment benefits. The suit was filed directly against Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt, and alleges that Governor Stitt violated Oklahoma state law when he ordered the discontinuation of federal unemployment benefits on June 26.
Other states sued for federal unemployment benefits
The lawsuit, filed in Tulsa County, seeks immediate relief by the continuation of federal unemployment benefits, along with court fees and attorney fees. The woman who brought the lawsuit, a 53-year-old former fast-food worker who suffers from a medical condition, is seeking an injunction to continue the federal unemployment program in Oklahoma while the matter is being litigated.
Oklahoma is one of 26 states whose governors recently elected to end federal unemployment benefits. Other states are seeing similar lawsuits from citizens who are now struggling to support themselves and their families while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
COVID-19 cases across Oklahoma are increasing due to the Delta variant of the virus, and the staggering number of unvaccinated citizens, despite the fact that the vaccines for COVID1-9 are ubiquitous across the state.
“Back to Work” rather than relief for workers
Meanwhile, rather than continue federal unemployment benefits for those Oklahomans affected by COVID-19, Governor Stitt instead decided to create a “Back to Work” initiative that incentivized the first 20,000 employees who applied for the program, to the tune of $1200. The initiative was created with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, headed by Shelley Zumwalt, who is now being sued by the Tulsa worker.
In a statement about the Oklahoma Back to Work initiative, Ms. Zumwalt stated, “We need more Oklahomans to participate in our state’s workforce. OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state’s citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees.”
Neither Ms. Zumwalt nor Governor Stitt mentioned other ways to support those workers who are affected by COVID-19 but are unable to return to work.
Lawsuit alleges overreach of power
The lawsuit alleges that Governor Stitt violated state law which holds that Oklahoma must seek any and all federal relief for unemployed workers. The suit also notes that Governor Stitt lacks the power to order the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission to stop providing federal benefits. Neither Ms. Zumwalt nor Governor Stitt have commented on the pending litigation.