While battle over unemployment benefits continues in Md. courts, jobless are ‘terrified’

The legal battle over whether Maryland should continue to participate in a federal unemployment program will continue on Friday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he intended to end the state’s participation in the federally funded program that gives an additional $300 to unemployment recipients by July 1.

Two lawsuits challenging Hogan’s decision were filed by representatives of unemployed workers, and since then a Baltimore circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order keeping the benefits in place until July 13.

Attorneys for Hogan took their case to the state’s highest court, only to see the petition filed by lawyers for the state rejected. The case now heads back to the Baltimore circuit court, where Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill stated that ending the program would do “substantial and irreparable harm” to the unemployed.

‘We were terrified’

While that legal fight goes on, people such as Brian Norwood, who lost his job as an events manager at a Silver Spring hotel during the pandemic, have relied on the unemployment benefits while looking for new jobs.

“Honestly, the entire experience has been a nightmare from beginning to end,” Norwood said. He said he sold his home, worried he’d end up in foreclosure and went without health insurance for nearly a year until his husband landed a job with health coverage for both of them. “Between him having a job and me having my unemployment, we’re literally holding on by what I’d call bloodied fingernails.”

Norwood said it was scary being without health insurance while job hunting. “We were terrified. I’m 50 years old and you never want to be 50 years old while living on a prayer,” he said.

Hogan has said that business owners are desperate to fill vacant jobs, and has suggested that the $300 in enhanced benefits are making that tougher.

Mike O’Halloran, with the National Federation of Independent Business, said the payments are not helping. “Our employers are telling us those sorts of things are not helping solve the problem.”

Norwood scoffs at the notion that people are staying out of the job market because they’re making more money while out of work. “I literally have been holding on for dear life for a year with that federal assistance.”

And Norwood said he gets frustrated when people say those on unemployment should be working harder to find jobs, and be prepared to take whatever they can to get off unemployment. “I keep hearing people talk about these good-paying $17 to $18 an hour jobs. I did the math: $17 an hour, 40 hours a week, is $35,000 a year,” he said, “and that’s before taxes. If I take that job, I’m making half the money that I used to make!”

O’Halloran, at NBIF, said employers are trying to fill jobs up and down the pay scale, including “positions that need certain technical expertise, licensing, certification, etcetera — all of which these employers are willing to pay for.”

‘One smidge more of hope’

Like hundreds of Marylanders dealing with the state’s unemployment system, Norwood said he’s gotten conflicting information, including being told recently that because he moved out of state, that he was not eligible for unemployment, and might be liable for the payments made to him.

Unemployment claims are supposed to be made in the state where an applicant was previously employed. According to the Maryland Department of Labor’s website, applicants who move out of state are required to follow Maryland unemployment insurance laws and regulations, but residency is not a requirement.

Norwood said he’s been searching for multiple jobs in a variety of areas, and has just snagged a job interview. He’s hopeful, but in his experience there is no shortage of applicants for good-paying jobs. Still, he said, “I’m jumping for joy because it gives me just that one smidge more of hope.”

If the job falls through, Norwood’s hoping the unemployment benefits remain in place — buying him additional time to get a job at, or at least close to, his previous salary.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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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