Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and more than 80 Democrats in the House of Delegates sent a letter Friday to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) calling for the removal of Labor Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson and an end to litigation over unemployment benefits.
The letter, signed by 83 of the 99 Democrats in the House, listed poor communication with claimants, conflicting and inaccurate advice to unemployed Marylanders, and slow adoption of legislatively mandated unemployment reforms as reasons Robinson should be removed from her cabinet post.
“We recognize that the massive influx of unemployment claims would have been a challenge for any leader,” the letter stated. “But throughout the pandemic, Maryland has been inexcusably slow in dispensing unemployment benefits. Countless Marylanders have waited for months for their benefits. Desperate and afraid, many of them spent day after day trying to reach the agency to resolve their claims.”
The letter also calls on Hogan to cease efforts in court to end expanded federal unemployment benefits early. Last week, the Hogan administration was on the losing end of multiple court rulings after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order maintaining the benefits through early next week.
The Hogan administration sought to end on July 3 the expanded benefits for those who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, and $300 payments to workers who haven’t historically qualified for benefits including independent contractors and gig workers.
The benefits have been funded through a federal stimulus through early September, and unemployed workers have fought to maintain the program until then.
“Withdrawing unemployment too soon will have devastating consequences for many Marylanders and the State’s economy, with cascading effects, including eviction, car repossession, and slower economic recovery,” the lawmakers wrote. “The $1.5 billion available from the federal government is specifically designed to boost economic recovery and buoy small businesses.”
The letter notes that lawmakers were supportive of many of Hogan’s actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but said ending the lawsuit and finding a new labor secretary are “the first best steps” to emerging from the pandemic with a strong economy and workforce.
“We appreciate your efforts to keep Marylanders safe and our economy afloat over the last 16 months. Many of us cheered when you urged our constituents to ‘wear the damn mask.’ We were happy to work with you to pass the bipartisan RELIEF Act,” the letter states. “However, your decision to turn your back on unemployed Marylanders during this recovery by rejecting funds that provide a crucial stimulus to our economy to ensure a full recovery, is short-sighted and ill-advised.”
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci called the letter a “political stunt” issued just before a judge was set to consider a more expansive ruling in the case.
“It smacks of total desperation,” Ricci wrote in an email. “What exactly is their plan to help small businesses and Mom-and-Pop stores struggling to find workers right now? They don’t have one. Just a bunch of nonsense.”
On Friday, attorneys for the state and unemployed workers agreed to delay a Baltimore City Circuit Court hearing to consider a longer-term preliminary injunction to extend the federal unemployment benefits; that hearing is now scheduled for Monday. The restraining order that temporarily extends the benefits expires Tuesday, and the Hogan administration has already signaled to the U.S. Department of Labor that it will move to halt the state’s participation in the pandemic unemployment program on Wednesday.