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Judge orders Maryland to keep expanded jobless benefits

July 13, 2021 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore judge has blocked Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to end pandemic-related federal enhanced unemployment benefits early in Maryland.

Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday morning ordering the Hogan administration to keep paying the expanded benefits at least until two lawsuits brought by out-of-work Marylanders are resolved. The governor’s office said the state doesn’t plan to appeal, according to news outlets.

Fletcher-Hill found that plaintiffs showed that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the preliminary injunction wasn’t issued and noted that the plaintiff’s stories are reminders that while the impact of the pandemic has been universal, it has also been “cruelly uneven”.

“As one who has enjoyed the privilege of continuous, secure employment, the Court is particularly struck by the plight of those who have had to struggle with irregular or no employment,” he wrote.

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The judge also ruled that the legal challenges would likely win at trial since Maryland state law, strengthened General Assembly Democrats this year, appears to require the state to accept all federal unemployment aid.

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state would discontinue benefits July 3 ahead of their expiration in September. Other states with Republican governors have taken similar steps. The Unemployed Workers Union and Public Justice Center organized the lawsuits to halt Hogan’s plans and Fletcher-Hill granted a temporary restraining order, barring the state from following through.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that ending the benefits early cuts off a lifeline for struggling families. Hogan has said ending the benefits will help get people into jobs.

The Hogan administration “fundamentally” disagrees with the decision, but won’t challenge it since a court battle will likely stretch beyond early September, when the programs are set to end, Hogan spokesperson Michael Ricci said.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently informed Maryland that 30 days’ notice is required before quitting the programs. That means benefits would continue for at least another month even if Hogan prevailed or the injunction was overturned.