FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2021
BALTIMORE – Six Marylanders filed a lawsuit against Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson on June 30, 2021, to halt the state’s early exit from federal pandemic unemployment benefits programs. The plaintiffs allege that the Governor’s and Secretary’s decision violates statutory and constitutional obligations to secure federal unemployment benefits for eligible state residents to the fullest extent possible, and that it violates the equal protection guarantees of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights. Because the loss of these benefits will risk plunging hundreds of thousands of Marylanders into housing instability and poverty, the plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to require the state to continue to administer federal unemployment benefits.
“I’ve given 40 years of my life to my job,” said plaintiff A.M. “I can’t find anything comparable, and my old employer isn’t able to hire me back just yet. I’m very worried about losing benefits next month. I don’t know if I will be able to afford prescriptions for high blood pressure and diabetes, and fear that my wife and I will lose the home we’ve lived in the past twenty years.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in mass layoffs and business closures, leading to unemployment levels not seen in the United States since the Great Depression. In response, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, which includes provisions for expanded unemployment benefits. The federal government provides the funds for the benefits and covers states’ costs to administer them. These benefits are set to expire on September 6, 2021, but several states have chosen to end their participation early, despite research demonstrating that such benefits boost spending and have not depressed job growth or slowed rehiring over the past year. The last week for which Marylanders will be able to apply for these benefits is the week ending July 3, absent relief from the Court.
The decision of the Governor and Secretary to end Maryland’s participation in CARES Act unemployment benefits programs will have a devastating impact on Marylanders. Of the more than 300,000 state residents who receive unemployment benefits, 84.7% will be left with no unemployment assistance at all. In addition, 46,522 Maryland recipients of regular unemployment benefits will have their weekly benefits cut by $300 per week. This will further exacerbate existing inequities laid bare by the pandemic: the latest data shows that nearly 59% on Maryland unemployment insurance recipients are Black, Latinx, or other people of color. In total, the early termination of unemployment benefits will cost the state of Maryland approximately $1.9 billion that would otherwise sustain people while they look for work, help businesses reopen, and create jobs.
Plaintiff Shad Baban describes the impact on his family: “If my benefits are cut off next month, I don’t know what I’ll do. I am the breadwinner for my wife and nine-month-old, and I won’t be able to cover to my family’s expenses. We’ll almost certainly lose our home, and I’ll lose my car, which I would need to work. I thought these benefits would see me through the next couple of months until I can get on my feet. I can’t eat or sleep with the anxiety this is causing.”
Although Maryland has seen progress in the fight against COVID-19, the state has not fully recovered from the recession. The unemployment rate of 6.2% is nearly twice the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5% and the state needs to add more quality jobs. In this environment, says plaintiffs’ attorney Sally Dworak-Fisher of the Public Justice Center, “Maintaining the federal benefits until the program ends in September is a legal imperative, an economic imperative, and a moral imperative.”
The case is D.A., et al. v. Larry Hogan, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Maryland, et al., filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The plaintiffs are represented by the Public Justice Center and Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP. The complaint is available here: http://www.publicjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/2021-06-30-Plaintiffs-Complaint.pdf.