Marylanders will continue receiving an extra $300 per week and other federal unemployment benefits under a last-minute ruling Saturday in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The judge handling the case issued a temporary restraining order that blocks Gov. Larry Hogan from ending the federal supplemental benefits, which would have ended Saturday without the legal intervention.
Hogan, a Republican, announced last month that Maryland would opt out of the federal benefits two months early, citing employers’ need for workers to return to the workforce.
But the change brought immediate condemnation from Democrats and from jobless Marylanders who said they still depend on the benefits.
The federal programs provide an extra $300 per week on top of Maryland’s regular unemployment benefits and offer money to nontraditional workers, like the self-employed, who normally wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment.
The programs started as an emergency measure during the pandemic when shutdowns suddenly put millions of people out of work.
Hogan’s administration has argued that the extra money is keeping people from returning to work, contributing to a labor shortage that is preventing a full economic recovery.
But the plaintiffs, who filed a pair of lawsuits to prevent an early end to the benefits, said stopping the federal programs would deny some 300,000 people badly needed money.
Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill on Saturday agreed with the plaintiffs, noting that the financial harm of losing the federal benefits could be “irreparable.”
“Plaintiffs have shown in their affidavits with varying degrees of severity that the immediate loss of benefits, when some of them already are in vulnerable financial condition, likely will lead to loss of housing, short-term diversion of effort to less valuable employment, and/or significant emotional consequences,” the judge wrote.
“These non-monetary effects would never be compensated and therefore add to the threat of irreparable harm.”
The ruling means that Hogan must rescind his order to opt out of the federal programs — at least for now.
The temporary order expires in 10 days, and the parties in the lawsuit will continue arguing over the final outcome. A hearing to continue the case has not yet been scheduled.
A judge in Indiana issued a similar ruling last week, ordering the governor there to continue the federal unemployment programs.
The Maryland lawsuits argued that many jobless people faced the possibility of eviction or car repossession if the federal benefits ended. Others said their mental health has deteriorated because of financial problems.
“This sudden severance of two months of additional unemployment is a detriment to the livelihood, health, and stability of all individuals currently receiving the federal aid, many of whom are actively seeking employment,” the plaintiffs said in one complaint.
Economic observers say there are still many factors, including a lack of child care and continued health risks, that are keeping people out of work.
The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan progressive think tank, estimates that Maryland would lose $1.9 billion by opting out of the federal programs.
A spokesperson for Hogan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
In a previous statement, Hogan’s director of communications, Michael Ricci, defended the decision to end the federal programs.
“Go anywhere in the state right now, and employers will tell you their top challenge is finding enough workers,” Ricci said.
“Even the White House has distanced itself from bonus benefits, saying that states have every right to opt out.”
The plaintiffs argued that under state law, the state Department of Labor is required to cooperate with the U.S. Secretary of Labor to “the fullest extent” possible.
The judge agreed that the law could be interpreted to mean that the state must maximize the use of any federal unemployment benefits offered.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA TODAY Network. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @maddioneill.