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Judge rules to extend Maryland unemployment benefits until September, lawyers say

Governor Larry Hogan had been trying to end them early because of a worker shortage.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A judge ruled Tuesday that thousands of unemployed Marylanders can keep receiving the extra federal unemployment benefits for now, according to lawyers for unemployed workers.

The judge granted the requested preliminary injunction after a hearing Monday in which lawyers for unemployed workers and the state argued their points, with the battle boiling down to the potential impact the state says the benefits will have on businesses and the economy versus the impact on workers. 

Tuesday's ruling extends the $300 weekly payments until September 6, the federal deadline. That's because the courts will not be able to adjudicate before then.

Gov. Larry Hogan tried to cut them off on July 3, citing a worker shortage, but the same judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent that. The judge granted a preliminary injunction, extending benefits.

Even if the judge had ruled in the state's favor, the benefits would have lasted until August, according to labor secretary Tiffany Robinson. In Monday's hearing, she said she had received an email from the U.S. Department of Labor, requiring the state to give a 30-day notice to stop the benefits.

For unemployed Marylanders struggling to pay their bills, this was a big win.

“I prayed on it last night," Billy Morton said. "And I am so happy that the judge saw it in our favor.”

Morton lives in Prince George's County. He lost his job in the sanitation industry when the pandemic hit and hasn't been able to find one since.

“As a father, who has a son in college, it's just like, okay, so how do we pay the tuition that's coming up remaining?" he said. "Or how do we buy food, because the government, you have to go through so much just to get stamps, unemployment, medical assistance, and you have to literally give your right arm and your left arm just to get anything.”

Governor Hogan released a statement Tuesday, saying he "fundamentally disagreed" with the judge's decision. 

"This lawsuit is hurting our small businesses, jeopardizing our economic recovery, and will cause significant job loss," Hogan said. "Most states have already ended enhanced benefits, and the White House and the US Department of Labor have affirmed that states have every right to do so. 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."

The governor added that work search requirements for all federal claims would go into effect the week of July 19, and said claimants would need to use the Maryland Workforce Exchange to search for jobs and meet the requirements.

For weeks, the governor has pointed to stats like the ones from a survey the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released recently.

Out of the 500+ people the chamber polled, the results say 16% of the people who are not actively seeking work say the amount they are receiving from unemployment benefits makes it not worth looking for work.

Many like Morton, however, said they are looking for work -- they're just not finding any.

“Then if you do have something, then it is paying six bucks," he said. "I mean, you know, it's a job but you have to really stay there all night, all day just to make a decent wage.”

Even with the news of extended benefits, many are still struggling to get money from weeks, even months ago.

Tara McKinney, who lives in Germantown, lost her restaurant job at the start of the pandemic.

“I shouldn't have to choose between paying rent and putting food on my table for my son," McKinney said. "He's six years old … And he sees me crying. He sees me and says, 'if I had money, I'd give it to you, so you can pay bills.' And I just hate it because he shouldn't have to do that.”

McKinney and a Registered Behavior Technician in Prince George's County, Amber Mensah, are fighting to keep roofs over their babies' heads.

“I've really been calling every single time I'll keep talking to different people," Mensah said. "And nobody does anything."

One group of lawyers is still pursuing a class action lawsuit against the state to resolve the backlog issue. They're currently looking to add more named plaintiffs to the suit with the plan of filing an amended complaint next week.

If you want to add your name, you can reach out to Alec Summerfield at asummerfield@protonmail.com.

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