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Judge says he will rule Saturday on Maryland unemployment lawsuit

July 2nd, 2021 by WCBC Radio

A judge in Baltimore hearing two lawsuits against the governor and state labor secretary over unemployment benefits said he will rule Saturday.

WBAL TV reports a Baltimore Circuit Court judge on Friday heard arguments to stop Gov. Larry Hogan from ending the extra $300 in federal unemployment aid. The hearing is a combination of two lawsuits filed this week by unemployed Maryland residents.

Early last month, Hogan announced Maryland will discontinue the enhanced pandemic federal unemployment benefits and reinstate work-search requirements starting July 3.

Attorneys for the unemployed argued the extra $300 in federal benefits served as a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people during a time of unprecedented economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The termination of CARES Act benefits will have a particularly devastating effect on plaintiffs. Some risk losing homes, facing food insecurity and the ability to afford prescription medicine," the plaintiffs' attorney, Megan Casey, said.

Lawyers for the unemployed argued the governor and the labor secretary's action are in violation of statutory and constitutional obligations to secure federal unemployment benefits for eligible Marylanders.

They cited emergency legislation passed by the General Assembly that requires the labor secretary to accept federal funds and reduce bureaucratic hurdles to get the money.

Attorneys submitted several studies that found no evidence that the expansion of benefits has depressed growth or slowed rehiring.

The plaintiffs argued that a ruling in their favor is not unprecedented, citing a court ruling last week in Indiana that required the state to accept the federal benefits. The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order that would require the governor to rescind his June 21 letter notifying the federal government that Maryland is no longer participating in the funding, stop the labor secretary from withdrawing from the program and require the governor to notify the federal government of Maryland's continued participation in the program.

Private practice attorneys for the Hogan administration countered all of those arguments. They contend the Indiana law is much different than Maryland's statute and has no merit in this case. They called the plaintiffs' argument the governor and labor secretary violated state law a stretch.

"There's no violation. The law is a cooperation standard. It directs the labor secretary to cooperate with the federal government. It does not say you must accept all benefits being offered," defense attorney Christopher Mellot said.

The defense told the judge that Maryland's top executive can, through policy, make decisions to get the state economy back on track, and in this case, focus on getting people back to work.