Gov. Larry Hogan has made the right call — indeed, the only possible call – by throwing in the towel in his effort to call an early end to the federal supplemental benefit for unemployed Marylanders.
Like many other Republican governors, Hogan announced last month that Maryland would stop paying the $300-a-week supplemental benefit in July because Maryland businesses had thousands of jobs going unfilled and Hogan wanted the unemployed to return to work.
He argued that some people would rather collect the extra $300 a week in addition to their regular unemployment compensation, rather than return to jobs that paid about the same or less.
We supported the governor’s decision, noting that the supplement could very well be deterring people from working and that it was leaving small businesses short of workers.
But a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that jobless workers must continue to receive federal unemployment benefits. According to the Washington Post, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs, two organizations representing unemployed workers, would suffer “irreparable harm” if the preliminary injunction were not issued.
During the hearing, Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson, who is a defendant, testified that she was notified late Friday by the Biden administration that the state would have to give 30 days’ notice to stop the benefits. So, the supplement will continue until at least mid-August, even without any further court action.
The Hogan administration announced Tuesday that it won’t challenge the judge’s ruling, even though it “fundamentally” disagrees with the decision. Spokesperson Michael Ricci told the Associated Press that any court battle would likely stretch beyond early September, when the programs are set to end anyway.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the administration was not being represented by the state attorney general’s office, as is usual in such cases. If it were, the governor might be tempted to continue the fight to try to defend his powers to decide the question.
The Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh had a public disagreement about Hogan’s decision, so Frosh hired outside counsel to represent the governor — the high-powered, expensive Venable law firm.
It is not clear how much taxpayers are paying for Venable’s services, but you can bet it is a lot, running high into the hundreds of dollars an hour. The Baltimore Sun obtained the contract, and said it lists five Venable attorneys working on the cases. But their hourly rates were blocked out, because state law requires “trade secrets” and “confidential commercial information” to be redacted. Only when the bills are paid will the public will see the total invoices.
The idea of paying lawyers hundreds of dollars an hour to fight a $300-a-week supplement for unemployed people is bad politics for the governor. It was definitely time to shut down this fight.