The Maryland Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed Gov. Larry Hogan’s appeal of a lawsuit blocking him from to halting extra federal unemployment benefits in the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who wrote the opinion for the state’s highest court, issued that a temporary restraining order keeping the state enrolled in the federal programs remain in effect.
Those benefits include an additional $300 per week, extended eligibility for residents whose benefits have exhausted and eligibility for contractual and freelance workers normally unable to qualify.
“There are record numbers of jobs available, and this program is making it harder to fill them, and hurting our restaurants and small businesses,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said in a statement after the ruling. “The White House and the U.S. secretary of labor agree that governors can take this action, and most already have. We are confident the courts will ultimately rule in favor of our fight to get more Marylanders back to work and continue a booming economic recovery.”
Hogan cited his decision last month to end the enhanced benefits because of a decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases, widely accessible vaccines and 12 months of job growth.
President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan provides states with the federal dollars for those benefits until Sept. 6, but governors can opt out the program, which Hogan and 24 other Republican governors elected to do.
Sally Dworak-Fisher, an attorney with the Pubic Justice Center of Baltimore representing six of the unemployed workers in the suit, said the case involves policy and legal issues.
“With respect to the policy issue, many people are focused is the federal money brings about $1.9 billion into the state and so these benefits are fully funded, so to a lot of folks it doesn’t make sense to cut them off,” she said. “Our focus has been more on the legal issue. Even if the Biden administration allows states to exit with 30 days’ notice, that does not mean that our state unemployment insurance law allows them to do so … and administer benefits to the fullest extent.
“So the governor’s policy decisions in this case cannot violate the state law and that is our position,” Dworak-Fisher said.
The enhanced enemployment benefits were set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, but unemployed workers filed two separate lawsuits in Baltimore City Circuit Court to challenge Hogan’s decision.
The plaintiffs are workers with the Unemployed Workers Union, led by the Peoples Power Assembly of Baltimore, and six unemployed workers represented by the union UNITE HERE Local 7.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill ruled in favor of the plaintiffs Saturday, issuing a temporary restraining order to keep the federal benefits in place through July 13.
In the decision, the judge ruled the governor, Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson and other state officials “shall immediately take all actions necessary to ensure that Maryland residents continue to receive any and all expanded and/or supplemental unemployment benefits.”
Hogan appealed to the state’s Special Court of Appeals, which denied that motion Saturday. The governor then appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs Monday.
Because the temporary order expires July 13, the cases will return to the Baltimore City Circuit Court.