Sep. 3—A Superior Court judge avoided making a quick decision Friday after lawyers squared off for an hour over Gov. Chris Sununu’s mid-June termination of the $300 weekly unemployment benefit tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. John Lynch, said she will study written submissions and issue an order in the near future.
The case was brought by four recipients of the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was instituted in March 2020 under the federal CARES Act.
Their lawyer, Michael Perez, said his clients want the chance to file for benefits as of June 19. That’s when Sununu, a Republican, terminated the program.
Perez said Sununu did not have the legal right to do so. Federal law requires states that used the Pandemic Unemployment program to stick with it to the end, he said.
“Three hundred dollars is a big deal for someone unemployed trying to care for their family. Three hundred dollars a week can save people,” Perez said.
Nationwide, the program is scheduled to expire on Monday. It provided checks not just to regular full-time workers, but also those shut out of traditional state-funded unemployment benefits such as part-time workers, self-employed and gig workers.
Perez filed suit against the state Department of Employment Security. Assistant Attorney General Nathan Kenison-Marvin said Perez is using the wrong law to interpret the program.
He said Sununu signed a contract with the U.S. Labor Department that allowed the Republican governor to terminate the program when he wanted.
“The governor entered the agreement and terminated the agreement,” Kenison-Marvin said.
Sununu has said the additional benefits became a disincentive for workers to reenter the job market as the state faces a chronic workforce shortage. As many as 15,000 were thrown out of the program and could be eligible for back benefits, depending on how Colburn rules.
Sununu is the only governor in the Northeast to end the Pandemic Unemployment program early, though Republican governors across the country have done so.
Legal challenges to their actions have been mixed, with some decisions overturned and others upheld.