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Judge dismissed unemployment benefits lawsuit against Gov. Little, IDOL

An Ada County District judge dismissed a lawsuit against Governor Brad Little and the Director of the Idaho Department of Labor for terminating additional unemployment benefits months early.

Two Idahoans, identified with only their initials, filed a complaint with representation from Idaho Legal Aid Services in August arguing that Little and state DOL officials violated their legal obligations to make sure the Gem State got the full benefit of the CARES Act relief packages. As first reported by the Idaho Capital Sun, Judge Derrick O’Neill sympathized with the plaintiffs, and the struggle of other Idahoans during the pandemic, but he said it was well within Little’s right to end the benefits when he did.

[Labor shortages are still impacting Idaho industries. This is why.]

“The Governor has discretion to determine what is an advantage,” O’Neill wrote in early October. “He determined that Idaho’s continued participation in the Programs would interfere with a reduction in unemployment and was not in the best interests of Idaho’s workforce. Continued participation was no longer an advantage, but rather a disadvantage because full development of Idaho’s workforce was hindered.”

‘The correct decision’

Little announced in May the state would stop distributing additional federal unemployment benefits in mid-June, eleven weeks before the benefits were set to expire. At the announcement of his decision, he suggested ending the benefits early would help push workers to fill the shortage of lower-wage jobs in hospitality, food service, and other industries that have plagued businesses paying lower wages in recent months, according to the Idaho Press. He joined several other Republican governors across the country in ending the additional unemployment benefits early.

He celebrated the judge’s order, calling it “the correct decision.”

“Congress wisely entrusted each of the fifty state governors to determine whether and for how long their respective states should participate in the CARES Act federal unemployment benefits programs,” Little’s spokesperson Marissa Morrison wrote in an email. “Governor Little’s decision to end Idaho’s participation in the programs in June was based upon what he believed was in the best interest for Idaho and its economy. No state should be obligated to accept federal funds for unemployment programs, especially when accepting those benefits is neither necessary nor in our state’s best interest.”

The additional unemployment benefits provided an additional $300 per week on top of the state provided unemployment insurance, but the program also extended unemployment benefits to those who would normally not be eligible to receive benefits (like gig workers) and allowed workers who would have exhausted their benefits under normal circumstances to still receive them.

Idaho’s unemployment claims have steadily fallen all year from the high of 30,359 in February down to 4,554 on August 14th. The unemployment rate is hovering at 3%, down from 3.3% in February.

Judge says no concrete promise of retroactive benefits

Belodoff said Legal Aid is weighing whether or not it will appeal the decision.

“The State offered no evidence the CARES Act benefits were producing Idaho’s labor shortage or the plaintiffs had not and were not seeking employment,” he told BoiseDev. “The termination of the CARES Act benefits in June has had no effect on Idaho’s labor shortages which are due to other factors.”

In the complaint, Belodoff requested the state resume participation in the program before it expired and pay back the funds unemployed Idahoans missed out on.

O’Neill quashed this notion in his opinion, saying that the plaintiffs pointed to an email saying the federal government would pay back the missed benefits, but he said it wasn’t a solid promise.

“Due to the speculative nature of the email, it is not certain that rescission would be successful or that payment of Program benefits is guaranteed,” O’Neill wrote. “Because Plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits, the Court denies their Motion for Preliminary Injunction.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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