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Judge blocks Maryland governor from ending federal unemployment benefits early

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(BALTIMORE) — A Baltimore judge has shut down efforts by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to put an early end to enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits.

Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday ordering that immediate action be taken to ensure Maryland residents continue to receive “any and all” expanded unemployment benefits available to them through federal programs.

The legal action came in response to multiple cases challenging Hogan’s decision, which was announced in early June. The Republican governor said at the time that many businesses were facing “severe worker shortages” and “we look forward to getting more Marylanders back to work.”

Fletcher-Hill wrote the plaintiffs demonstrated that they “will suffer irreparable harm” if the injunction was not issued, and have shown that the issuance of it “is in the public interest.”

Federal pandemic unemployment benefits include an extra $300 a week and also expand eligibility to allow more people who may not have previously qualified (such as independent contractors) to receive jobless aid. The bolstered federal unemployment insurance programs were set to last through early September, though Hogan sought to cut them off in July.

A slew of states have similarly sought to curtail the enhanced federal unemployment benefits programs. Many Republican governors, including Hogan, have argued these benefits are dissuading people from seeking work as the economy begins to bounce back from the pandemic-induced downturn. An apparent labor shortage in the restaurant industry as many businesses reopen at once has also left some employers struggling to find staff.

Many economists have refuted the argument that enhanced unemployment benefits are preventing people from working. Low hiring numbers have also sparked a debate about dismal wages in the service industry.

A spokesperson for Hogan’s office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Wednesday, but told The Baltimore Sun that the governor won’t challenge the decision.

“While we firmly believe the law is on our side, actual adjudication of the case would extend beyond the end of the federal programs, foregoing the possibility of pursuing the matter further,” Michael Ricci, Hogan’s director of communications, told the local outlet.

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