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Maryland unemployment lawsuits set for Friday court hearing

Lawyers will head to court Friday to debate whether Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should continue to be required to keep the state in enhanced federal unemployment programs.

A temporary order is in place requiring the state to participate in the programs — which include expanded eligibility and an extra $300 per week in payments — through July 13. Tens of thousands of Marylanders receive benefits through the programs.

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The Republican governor opted to end participation in the programs, which the federal government plans to pay for through early September as part of the response to the job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown orders.

Two lawsuits were filed in an attempt to overturn Hogan’s action. Over the weekend, the plaintiffs secured a temporary restraining order that prevents Hogan from withdrawing from the programs. The restraining order remains in place after multiple unsuccessful attempts by Hogan’s lawyers to delay or block it.

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They’re also seeking a preliminary injunction, which effectively would extend that ban while the lawsuits are considered in court. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, who issued the temporary restraining order, will hear arguments Friday on whether or not a preliminary injunction is appropriate.

Hogan has said that Maryland should withdraw from the enhanced federal unemployment programs because it will spur people to get back to work. He’s echoed the concerns of some employers, who have said they’ve had a hard time hiring and keeping workers.

Hogan said he’s “anxious” for Friday’s hearing and continued to defend his decision to cut off the benefits.

“There was a time when people really needed these benefits,” Hogan said in response to questions from reporters at a coronavirus vaccine announcement in College Park on Wednesday afternoon.

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But, he continued, “right now, the biggest problem we have is a worker shortage and people not returning to work. It’s crippling businesses across the state.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford sounded a similar theme, speaking on WOLB Radio: “There are jobs out there. The economy is back open. We encourage people to get out there and look.”

But those who are unemployed and their lawyers say some people still need help as the economy has an uneven rebound from the pandemic.

Dozens of people protested outside the state Department of Labor’s office in Baltimore on Tuesday, calling on the state to do a better job administering the unemployment programs. In addition to the issue of people facing the elimination of their benefits, protesters said thousands of people who have applied for unemployment remain in limbo without receiving payments.

The governor has been criticized for his decisions on unemployment by numerous Democratic politicians, including Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Franchot, who also is running for governor in 2022, wrote to the governor on Wednesday, noting that many workers face challenges such as finding work that matches their skill set and prior salary or securing quality child care. Some industries have yet to fully reopen or return to pre-pandemic levels of business, he wrote.

“Maryland’s economic story during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a tale of two Marylands,” Franchot wrote. “Our wealthy families and white-collar workers, for the most part, have fared well, whereas our low-wage earners and the poorest among us were absolutely devastated.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.

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