Court hearing to determine fate of federal unemployment benefits in Maryland

Benefits will last through August for now
Posted at 2:56 PM, Jul 12, 2021

BALTIMORE — Federal unemployment benefits will continue through early August, according to Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson.

A hearing was held Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court to determine the fate of multiple federal benefits programs.

Last month, Governor Larry Hogan said the benefits would be discontinued on July 3, including an additional $300 a week through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), $100 Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation program, and programs for jobless workers that wouldn't typically qualify for unemployment assistance.

The Unemployed Workers Union and Public Justice Center filed two separate lawsuits in state court to halt Hogan's plans.

RELATED: Lawsuit attempts to stop Gov. Hogan from cutting federal unemployment benefits

Initially, the state asked that the cases be heard in federal court, but a judge agreed with the plaintiffs to have it remanded back to the state level.

On July 3, right before benefits were set to expire, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill granted a temporary restraining order, barring the state from following through on their plans.

The state tried unsuccessfully to appeal the ruling.

READ MORE: What's next for federal unemployment benefits in Maryland?

At Monday's hearing, Robinson said she received an email from the United States Department of Labor requiring the state to give an extra 30-days notice in order to opt out of the program.

Robinson said she reviewed "countless documents to make this very calculated policy decision," with Hogan to end the benefits.

She said it costs the state money to facilitate federal programs and estimates the state's shortfall will be at $65 million after federal reimbursement.

Besides Robinson, multiple other witnesses underwent cross-examination during Monday's hearing.

One of them was Maryland Department of Labor employee John Kashuba, who reportedly drafted the notification letter about the state's intent to withdraw from benefit programs.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs questioned Kashuba on his experience and prior positions under Republican administrations.

Before Kashuba took the stand, Neil Bradley with U.S. Chamber of Commerce testified that it’s no longer prudent to continue paying out $300 in weekly unemployment benefits.

The first witness was economist Michael Siers, of the Maryland Department of Commerce.

He said the data shows "a disincentive to work" with unemployment programs still in effect.

"I would not say there’s a 1-to-1 link in the announcement that benefits are ending and job searches spiking," said Siers. "But data suggests and supports that ending enhanced benefits would lead to increase in job searches and applications submitted and increase in hiring."

That was similar to the Hogan administration's initial response to the lawsuit.

"Go anywhere in the state right now, and employers will tell you their top challenge is finding enough workers. In fact, there are more jobs available now than ever before," Michael Ricci, Hogan's Director of Communications, said on June 30.

Siers was unable to confirm how many unvaccinated Marylanders are currently receiving benefits.

Another sticking point of the lawsuits was to get those people paid who have already filed but are still waiting for their unemployment benefits.

That process has been slowed by an enormous amount of fraudulent claims.

Robinson said the Labor Department has notified authorities of 46 fake websites trying to gather identities of claimants to defraud them and file claims in their names.

SEE ALSO: Despite hiring new vendor to verify IDs, 37,000+ unemployment claimants are still waiting

The judge is expected to issue a written decision by 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Regardless of the court's decision, Robinson said the benefits would continue through early August.