On July 13, 2021, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Fletcher-Hill enjoined the State from opting out of the federally enhanced unemployment program under ARPA. In June, Governor Hogan provided Congress with the State’s written intent to withdraw from the program, effective July 3, 2021. The Governor primarily cited increased vaccine availability and a marked number of job vacancies in support of this move. Additionally, businesses across the State believed that this benefits program caused a labor shortage since these payments disincentivized people from looking for work. In response to the proposed termination of the benefits program, the Unemployed Workers’ Union and the Public Justice Center filed parallel lawsuits against the State seeking an injunction to prevent the State from withdrawing from the program early.
Judge Fletcher-Hill granted the injunction and prohibited Maryland from terminating these benefits early. In doing so, Judge Fletcher-Hill found that to abruptly end these programs would cause “irreparable harm” to the beneficiaries. The State has declined to appeal the matter. This means the enhanced benefits will continue until September, unless they are further extended by Congress.
At the heart of the issue are a pair of unemployment benefits: a $300 per week enhancement to traditional unemployment insurance, and a standalone benefit entitled Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”). The enhanced unemployment insurance benefits are available to those who are out of work due to traditional no-fault reasons, such as a layoff. Meanwhile, PUA is available to those in the margins who are unemployed voluntarily — and thus ineligible for traditional unemployment — but for reasons directly related to the pandemic. The most common PUA eligibility scenario is a parent who cannot work because of childcare issues because of school or daycare closures. The DLLR has advised that beneficiaries of either program should continue to file their weekly certifications to continue to receive their benefits. The State also must now resume accepting new PUA applications for benefits.
Despite this most recent win, unemployment claimants still are facing an uphill battle. The DLLR has been inundated with applications for benefits since the beginning of the pandemic, and many who are entitled to benefits are improperly denied because of clerical errors, misclassification, and BEACON system errors. To make things worse, the DLLR has a very short time window for a claimant to file a timely appeal of the benefit denial. The sheer volume of appeals often causes the DLLR to uphold benefit denial determinations solely based upon the claimant’s appeal being untimely. The DLLR has been using this as a method of expediting appeal processing to address its backlog. It is critical that an appeal be noted timely to ensure the merits of the claimant’s denial are addressed and any improper denial is reversed.
If you have received a notice of benefit determination denying benefits that you believe is incorrect, it is imperative that you not delay. At Luchansky Law, we have successfully represented claimants in their appeals before the DLLR and obtained benefits for those who were improperly denied. If you believe you have been wrongfully denied PUA or any other unemployment benefit, give us a call at (410) 522-1020 to schedule a consultation.