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Hogan Blocked From Cutting Off Unemployment Benefits

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Baltimore City resident Shaunte Hines speaks at a rally in June. After losing her job at GDL Italian by Giada, a restaurant at the Horseshoe Casino, at the beginning of the pandemic, Hines said she went back to school to study information technology. Credit: Rachel Baye / WYPR

The accompanying audio story aired before Judge Fletcher-Hill’s decision Tuesday morning. WYPR’s Rachel Baye will have an update this afternoon.

A Baltimore City Circuit judge ruled Tuesday morning that the Hogan administration cannot prematurely cut off federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

In June, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state would be withdrawing from the programs in the first week of July. The federal government is expected to fund those programs until September.

Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill’s decision Tuesday morning follows a key court hearing Monday on two class-action lawsuits against the Hogan administration. Plaintiffs called on Fletcher-Hill to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the Hogan administration from cutting off the unemployment programs while the cases are in progress.

The governor’s communications director Mike Ricci said that while the administration “fundamentally disagrees” with Fletcher-Hill’s decision, it would not appeal the ruling.

“While we firmly believe the law is on our side, actual adjudication of the case would extend beyond the end of the federal programs, foregoing the possibility of pursuing the matter further,” Ricci wrote in a statement.

He added that unemployment claimants can search for work using the Maryland Workforce Exchange.

The state argues that there is a link between unemployment benefits and a lack of incentive to find work. Unemployed workers pushed back against that argument, saying the additional time and money from the programs will help them get back on their feet.

Roxie Herbekian is the president of UNITE HERE Local 7, a union for hospitality workers who have been hit especially hard over the past year.

Her organization has several plaintiffs in the case.

“Ending the federal unemployment programs means gig workers get nothing. It means small business owners, contractors get nothing, it means that people that are past 26 weeks of unemployment get nothing,” she told WYPR Monday.

Before Monday’s hearing, Fletcher-Hill had issued a temporary restraining order, preventing Hogan from cutting off the programs before July 14.

At Monday’s hearing, however, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson testified that even if Hogan won the case, the programs would last through at least mid-August.

The federal government requires that states give at least 30 days notice before terminating the unemployment program. Before Monday, Robinson argued the Hogan administration had already complied with that 30 day period because the governor announced the cutoff for July in early June.

While testifying, Robinson was asked about an email from the Biden administration, indicating that they would have to start over a 30-day period even if Hogan won in court. Robinson said while she hadn’t replied to the email, the Hogan administration would comply.