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State Faces Lawsuits Over Stitt Ending Federal Enhanced Unemployment Benefits

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Several Oklahomans are suing over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to end additional federal unemployment benefits late last month, alleging he overstepped his authority and violated federal law

Stitt announced in May the extra $300 a week covered by federal coronavirus relief funding would stop June 26 and be repurposed for a back-to-work incentive.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has scheduled a referee hearing for Aug. 11 in one of the lawsuits. The governor's office said they can't comment on pending litigation.

A Tulsa County woman filed a separate lawsuit that says she quit working at a fast-food restaurant because her manager made her work the drive-thru window, something her doctor told her wasn’t safe because of COVID-19 and her chronic health condition. Her attorney, Brendan McHugh, said losing the additional federal benefits was devastating for her.

"I mean, she needs every penny of a paycheck to pay for her bills, and she's not — she's not in a position where she can just go out and find a job, magically get another job within her physical limitations," McHugh said.

"Part of the problem with this also is that there's been this narrative that's been created that these people are just sitting on their rear end, taking the extra $300 because they don't want to find a job, and that's really not the case to a lot of these people," McHugh said.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt is named in the Tulsa County woman's lawsuit. An OESC spokesperson said the agency can’t provide details on any possible lawsuits at this time.

The woman's lawsuit is being transferred to Oklahoma County.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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