NH Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Federal Unemployment Benefits Case, Outcome Could Return Thousands of Dollars in Federal Benefits to Granite Staters Who Lost Job or Income Due to COVID-19

NH Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Federal Unemployment Benefits Case, Outcome Could Return Thousands of Dollars in Federal Benefits to Granite Staters Who Lost Job or Income Due to COVID-19

NH Supreme Court set to rule on Sununu Administration’s decision to prematurely cut off federal unemployment benefits for Granite Staters

CONCORD, NH – On Wednesday, May 4 at 9:30 AM, the New Hampshire Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Caron, et al, vs. The New Hampshire Department of Employment Security regarding the Sununu Administration’s decision to prematurely cut-off of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a move which caused Granite State families dealing with the loss of a job or income due to the COVID-19 public health pandemic to also lose out on thousands of dollars in federal unemployment benefits available to other Americans.

“It was hard enough for our families to face the loss of our jobs and income due to COVID-19, but to have Governor Sununu then take away the financial relief that the President and Congress passed for our families was a shock and a slap in the face,” said Stephanie McKay, moderator of the NH Unemployment During COVID-19 Facebook group of over 4,500 Granite Staters who experienced unemployment during COVID-19. “None of us who experienced this situation would wish it on anyone else. We lost our jobs, our income, our economic stability, and our entire way of life in the span of a few short months. Even now, while some people have been able to get back on their feet, others racked up credit card debt or emptied their life savings to keep up with the mortgage or put food on the table. We are all working hard to get back to the lives we had pre-pandemic, and it is just cruel that these federal benefits were taken away from us for no other reason than to score political points. It didn’t cost the state a dime, yet the Sununu Administration continues to stand in the way of letting our families get the benefits our taxpayer dollars fund.”

“Even overlooking the Sununu Administration’s weak excuses for blocking federal benefits for Granite Staters, the reality is there is absolutely no reason to continue to waste taxpayer dollars fighting the lawsuit when the Sununu Administration could easily just allow families to apply for the benefits now,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, which is helping with the case. “This program comes at no cost to the state, it would help struggling Granite State families, and it could boost our local economy. With so many pressing issues in our state right now, why is the Sununu Administration spending time and money to continue to block federal benefits for Granite Staters?”

“We are confident that abandoning federal dollars for New Hampshire workers was not the legislature’s intent when it directed NH Employment Security to secure all advantages available to the state and its citizens,” said Mike Perez of Perez Law, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The purpose of the unemployment insurance system is to ease the burden of unemployment on workers and, in doing so, protect the state’s economy. Congress and the President passed COVID relief packages for this very reason. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance comes at absolutely no cost to the State of New Hampshire. Even the administrative costs are covered. Instead of spending taxpayer dollars to oppose federal benefits, the state should allow the impacted workers to file for those long overdue benefits.”

Background on Lawsuit

The federal CARES package established several pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs which NH Employment Security prematurely terminated nearly 3 months before the programs were set to expire, impacting tens of thousands of Granite Staters struggling with the loss of income or jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One program in particular, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), covers workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits, such as self-employed people, independent contractors, gig workers, and people who started a job too recently before becoming unemployed. The sudden and early termination of this program harmed Granite State families, even though federal and state law specify the benefits must be made available and even though the program is fully funded by the federal government, including all administrative costs. An estimated 5,000 Granite Staters are impacted by the early termination of this program alone. The law clearly indicates that the federal benefit shall be made available to Granite Staters. Moreover, prematurely cutting the benefit has added more economic insecurity for families facing challenges due to COVID-19, fueling cuts to household spending while not leading to significant job gains. Experts say the real challenge is barriers to workforce re-entry such as child and caregiving responsibilities, health issues, transportation, and other factors.