The judge appeared sympathetic to unemployed persons, saying federal pandemic unemployment assistance has served as a critical lifeline for thousands of people.
A Baltimore-based judge has ordered the state to continue paying jobless residents federal unemployment benefits, even after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan tried to cut off assistance.
According to The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued the temporary restraining order Saturday morning. The judge’s decision, notes the Sun, came hours before unemployment benefits were scheduled to end.
Those benefits include an extra $300 per week for people receiving unemployment benefits, as well as additional assistance for individuals who would not normally qualify for assistance, such as gig workers and independent contractors.
Nevertheless, Hogan’s office has vowed to launch an immediate appeal.
Sally Dworak-Fisher, an attorney with the Public Justice Center who is representing unemployed Marylanders, said it is ironic that Gov. Hogan wishes to exhaust state taxpayer dollars to prevent residents from receiving benefits.
“We understand that the Governor has indicated that they will continue to fight this ruling, using taxpayer money to pay a private firm to do so,” Dworak-Fisher said in a statement. “We find it unfortunate that Governor Hogan wants so badly to continue to deny federally funded life-sustaining benefits to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.”
The Baltimore Sun notes that Judge Fletcher Hill’s temporary restraining order will expire after only 10 days—giving just enough time for the court to schedule further hearings.
However, Fletcher-Hill has signaled he may have be more receptive to the unemployed workers’ argument than the state’s.
“There is a significant public interest in continuing these benefits, perhaps even a predominant public interest,” the judge wrote, observing that, if assistance ends, many of unemployed people would face “significant hardship.”
“The impact of the pandemic has been universal,” Fletcher-Hill said, “but the brief stories of these Plaintiffs reminds the Court that the impact of the pandemic has been cruelly uneven.”
“As one who enjoys 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,” h added.
Hogan, though, appears to have already filed an appeal.
“We’re going to file an appeal today,” the governor said in a Saturday statement.
Hogan, like other Republican governors, moved to terminate unemployment benefits after hearing complaints that many in-state businesses are unable to fill vacant positions.
“Thousands of businesses have no ability to get people back to work. We’ve got more jobs available than ever before in the history of the state,” Gov. Hogan said in a weekend speech. “People that really need the help are still going to get unemployment benefits. It’s the extended, bonus $300 that’s keeping people home.”