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Maryland must continue federal unemployment benefits, judge rules

July 13, 2021

Marylanders will continue to receive federal pandemic unemployment benefits through September 6, thanks to a preliminary injunction issued today by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill. The decision is a victory for the six workers represented by the Public Justice Center and Gallagher Evelius & Jones, as well as members of the Unemployed Workers Union, represented by Alec Summerfield and Robbie Leonard of Leonard & McCliggott Law Group. The workers had sued Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson for their decision to pull the state of Maryland out of federal pandemic unemployment benefits programs by July 3, months before the scheduled expiration of benefits on September 6, 2021. It is estimated that with the Court’s decision, Marylanders will receive at least $1.5 billion in federal benefits to support themselves and their families as they look for work.

We are thrilled with the Court’s ruling, which the Governor’s office has decided not to contest. The Judge understood the arguments and understood that this was about what Maryland’s Unemployment Insurance law requires.  His decision explains quite clearly why the Secretary of Labor is not at liberty to terminate the benefits. And most importantly, the Judge understood the human toll of terminating benefits:

Plaintiffs have shown by very particularized affidavits that they face significant personal hardship if their remaining unemployment benefits terminate now rather than on September 6, 2021. Plaintiffs have been strained economically and emotionally by the pandemic. In its global scope and in the anxiety that almost all people experience over the threat of disease, the impact of the pandemic has been universal, but the brief stories of these Plaintiffs reminds the Court that the impact of the pandemic has been cruelly uneven. Some have suffered death or debilitating illness themselves, in their families, or among their friends. Others have experienced severe economic hardship from involuntary unemployment or the inability to work because of the need to take on childcare and elder care responsibilities. 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.

Thank you to the many people who worked on this case, including PJC attorneys Tyra Robinson, Monisha Cherayil, Sally Dworak-Fisher, and Debra Gardner; Gallagher Evelius & Jones attorneys Paul Caiola, Meghan Casey, Hannah Perng, and summer associate Tory Trocchia; Unite Here Local 7, and the plaintiffs and other workers who shared their experiences of how devastating the immediate loss of benefits would be. Check out video from today’s press conference to hear from some of the people involved in the case.

As we celebrate this victory, we are also mindful that other systemic challenges remain. There are still thousands of Marylanders who are not receiving benefits as a result of the State’s failures to administer benefits in a timely manner – everyone from people flagged for “fraud” who have been stuck in limbo trying to prove their identity, to people whose benefits have inexplicably taken months to arrive. We call on state officials to fix these problems and do right by Maryland workers.