The incentive was designed to entice unemployed Oklahomans to find a job. Eligibility was limited to people who left unemployment and maintained a job for six weeks. Along with offering the cash incentive, OESC and Gov. Kevin Stitt terminated the state’s involvement in federal unemployment programs that were available to states through September.
Doing so shut off a $300 weekly payment and extended benefits for tens of thousands of Oklahomans. In June, OESC estimated that 90,000 Oklahomans were receiving federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Several of them sued the state, claiming the governor had no authority to withdraw Oklahoma unilaterally without authorization from legislators.
In one lawsuit, a Sand Springs fast food worker had to leave her job when her doctor warned her contracting COVID-19 could be fatal because of a pre-existing ailment.
She filed for unemployment and received $413 each week, which included the $300-per-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) tacked onto other unemployment benefits. Those payments ended June 26 when Oklahoma withdrew from the federal programs.
Attorneys for the state have argued Stitt was well within his authority to end Oklahoma’s involvement.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed last month to answer those questions, but an opinion hasn’t yet been issued. Since then, the federal unemployment programs have expired.
With the federal government no longer offering those expanded benefits, questions remain as to whether the money would even be available again if the court rules against the state. Any unused funds were supposed to be sent back to the federal government.
Traditional unemployment remains an option for some Oklahomans. For the most recent week data available, the moving average of first-time unemployment claims totaled 2,984, a slight drop from the previous week’s calculation.