Maryland unemployment case delayed until Monday

The legal dispute over Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to withdraw the state from federal unemployment programs is on hold for now.

A hearing was scheduled on the matter in Baltimore Circuit Court for Friday, but Robbie Leonard, the attorney for one set of plaintiffs, said lawyers for both sides agreed to delay it until Monday in order “to streamline the process and make it as simple as possible,” explaining that it would allow for the preparation of witnesses who would be called during the hearing.

The Hogan administration has contended the enhanced benefits of an added $300 a week keep people from re-entering the workforce. A number of organizations representing employers, including the National Federation of Independent Business, have said they are struggling to fill job vacancies, and cite the enhanced benefits as part of the problem.

Plaintiffs argue the money is critical to keeping them afloat, and their attorneys have cited labor experts who contend the enhanced payments are not what’s keeping employers from filling jobs.

On Friday, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones sent a letter to Hogan urging him to terminate Maryland State Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson, alleging her tenure has “failed too many struggling Marylanders.”

The letter said the conditions of the pandemic would have challenged any leader, but went on to say “Maryland has been inexcusably slow in dispensing unemployment benefits.”

The letter, signed by Democratic members of the House of Delegates, also called on the governor withdraw his defense in the lawsuits filed by two groups of plaintiffs. The letter read, “We implore you to focus on solutions that will help both businesses and struggling workers as they transition back to the workforce.”

Michael Ricci, Hogan’s communications director, responded to the legislator’s letter in an email, writing, “The judge will soon hear the case on the merits for the first time, and they pull a political stunt like this. It smacks of total desperation. What exactly is their plan to help small businesses and Mom-and-Pop stores struggling to find workers right now? They don’t have one. Just a bunch of nonsense.”

The case will be heard by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill in Baltimore Circuit Court on Monday. Under a temporary restraining order issued by Fletcher-Hill, the benefits remain in place until that order expires on Tuesday.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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