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Twenty-six states plan to stop providing supplemental $300-a-week unemployment payments before the program ends in September. Jobless workers in five states have challenged the decisions.
Maryland cannot cut off enhanced unemployment benefits to jobless residents before September, when the federal program is set to end, a Baltimore judge ruled Tuesday.
The ruling comes as unemployed workers in at least five states have challenged decisions to end the supplemental benefit program early. Governors in 26 states have announced plans to end $300-a-week federal unemployment supplements before the official cut off Sept. 6.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that blocks Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Secretary of Labor Tiffany Johnson from taking action “that will prevent the State of Maryland from receiving any and all expanded and/or supplemental unemployment benefits available to Maryland residents” under the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, or other existing federal sources of unemployment benefits.
Hogan, a Republican, had sought to end the state’s participation in the federal program on July 3, citing a drop in Covid-19 infections and worker shortages across the state. Unemployed workers sued, arguing that the decision “unnecessarily and prematurely” cut off a lifeline to tens of thousands of residents who would struggle to cover basic living expenses such as housing, utilities, fod, and transportation. Fletcher-Hill issued a temporary restraining order that kept the federal benefits in place while the case proceeded in court.
On Monday, unemployed workers in Indiana also scored a victory. The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the state to resume payment of federal unemployment benefits. The state stopped paying the supplemental benefits on June 19, but the Department of Workforce Development said that benefits could restart as soon as Friday to comply with the court order.
In most states, it’s Republican governors who have opted to end the federal unemployment benefits early, citing businesses’ difficulty finding workers.
Both the Maryland and Indiana lawsuits alleged that the states had failed to fulfil their legal obligations to unemployment claimants.
The rulings could embolden jobless workers in other states to challenge decisions to cut off federal unemployment benefits early, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
“The barrier in every state law is a little different,” and therefore mounting a strong legal argument in a short amount of time could be difficult, Stettner said.
The federal government requires 30 days’ notice before states can stop federal unemployment benefits. Because Maryland had to keep the benefits program going while the case was heard, the state would have been required to give notice again—meaning the state would have been required to provide benefits through at least mid-August.
Hogan’s office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the ruling.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.