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Hearing set for Friday on Maryland’s move to end pandemic jobless benefits

Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill

Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill

Attorneys for Gov. Larry Hogan and a group of unemployed workers will return to Baltimore City Circuit Court Friday for a hearing on a order that could require the state to continue participating in a federal program that provides supplemental unemployment payments.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued the order Tuesday after a conference with attorneys for the governor and the plaintiffs.

Unemployed workers in the state will continue to receive federal benefits at least until a temporary restraining order against Hogan expires in a week. Fletcher-Hill also set aside a second day of hearings scheduled for Monday — the day before the temporary restraining order expires.

Last month, Hogan cited an improving economy and need for workers as he announced that the state would end participation in the pandemic extended benefits program in an effort to push those on unemployment back into the job market. His decision was stayed last week after Fletcher-Hill issued a 10-ay temporary restraining order that required the state to continue offering the federal supplemental benefit.

Two separate lawsuits in Baltimore City Circuit Court sought to prevent the state from ending participation in a federal pandemic program that provides an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits. Some of those payments went to people who otherwise would not receive a check because their traditional jobless benefits have expired.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that ending the program would substantially harm the estimated 300,000 people in Maryland receiving those benefits. Hogan’s decision would discriminate against some of those workers who would lose benefits while others would continue to be paid through the state unemployment insurance program, said attorney Sally Dworak-Fisher.

In his order, Fletcher-Hill, who rejected the discrimination argument, noted a “significant public interest in continuing those benefits” and wrote that the legislature, in unemployment legislation sponsored by Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, and Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Montgomery, directed the Department of Labor  to”seek and obtain all federally funded benefits that are available to the State.”

Over the holiday weekend the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals both rejected attempts by Hogan to overturn Fletcher-Hill’s ruling.

Should the temporary restraining order expire, the state has already signaled to federal officials that it intends to end participation in the program.

Hogan is being represented by Venable LLP. The decision triggered Tom Perez, a Democratic candidate for governor and the former head of the Democratic National Committee, to announce he was resigning from the firm. Perez in May announced he would “work part time at Venable while I was considering a run for governor.”

“However, the firm has agreed to represent Governor Hogan in the case against unemployed Marylanders, and the governor’s position is inconsistent with my values and the future I want to build for Maryland,” Perez said in a statement. “As a result, I have resigned from my position with the firm.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson, in a message on social media over the weekend, hinted at a legislative review of Hogan’s hiring of outside counsel.



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