A New Hampshire court rejected a lawsuit brought by progressive activists attempting to reinstate federal unemployment bonuses, even as Granite State businesses go begging for workers.
The lawsuit was brought against the State of New Hampshire Department of Employment Security and its Commissioner, George Copadis. It was filed just ahead of Labor Day in the Hillsborough Superior Court – South in Nashua, and it sought to force the state government to approve an extension of the extra $300 a week benefit for people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That benefit, the emergency federal unemployment supplement, was part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 and originally paid unemployed workers $600 a week. When it expired, a new federal supplement of $300 per week was authorized via executive order by President Donald Trump and extended as part of the American Rescue Plan that passed in March 2021, with an expiration date of September 6, 2021.
In April 2020, when the pandemic lockdown was in full swing, unemployment in New Hampshire soared to 16.3 percent, the highest level ever recorded since local agencies began collecting data in 1976.
By August of 2020, it had fallen to 6.3 percent. A year later, it’s down to 3 percent — one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. Granite State businesses are struggling to fill around 40,000 job openings — double the number before COVID-19 hit.
In response, Gov. Chris Sununu stopped the federal unemployment bonus (N.H. state unemployment is still available), and he used part of the money to fund bonuses for people returning to work.
The four plaintiffs, supported by Granite State Progress and represented by attorney Mike Perez, argued the wording of the CARES Act, along with the Social Security Act, made New Hampshire’s participation in the program mandatory.
Judge Jacalyn Colburn said no. Not only did she reject their request for a preliminary injunction, but she also ruled against the entire premise of their suit as “flawed.”
“(T)he Court concludes that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims because neither of the statutes on which they rely require the defendants to act,” Colburn wrote. “Moreover, because all of the plaintiffs’ claims for relief are premised on flawed interpretations of RSA 282-A:127, I and 15 U.S.C. § 9021(c), the Court further finds that the plaintiffs cannot succeed on the merits of their claims as a matter of law.
“In other words, the plaintiffs have failed to state claims for which relief may be granted.”
Sununu praised the ruling.
“The New Hampshire Department of Employment Security has done a phenomenal job throughout the pandemic assisting out-of-work Granite Staters receive benefits and find work, and this ruling will allow them to continue helping our citizens unobstructed as we move forward,” Sununu said in a statement.
Perez, who operates a private practice based in Massachusetts that specializes in cannabis-related business law, said Monday he is considering taking the lawsuit to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
“The plaintiffs are reviewing the decision, and we are considering all options at this point, including appeal,” Perez said.
Andrew Cline, president of the Josiah Barlett Center for Public Policy says the additional spending isn’t needed.
“There are more job openings in New Hampshire than there are Sullivans in Boston,” Cline said. “In addition to tens of thousands of available jobs, the state has community colleges, private job training companies and social service organizations eager to help people upgrade their skills. There is no shortage of employment opportunities in the state.”
Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director at Granite State Progress, said the state still has the ability to reinstate the pandemic unemployment program. The federal deadline to do that is Oct. 3. She lays the blame on Sununu for not taking action, even though he’s not named as the defendant in the lawsuit.
“All the Sununu administration has to do is act. But instead, Sununu is actually spending taxpayer dollars fighting lawsuits hoping to restore benefits for families,” Rice Hawkins said. “This makes absolutely no sense and is a complete waste of state resources. Sununu should be focused on expanding economic stability for families and small business owners, not harming it.”
The federal benefits ended on schedule September 6, so the plaintiffs could only collect them retroactively.
Meanwhile, the job market has steadily improved in New Hampshire since, though it still isn’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels. John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech Monday afternoon that the national labor market has a ways to go before it is going to completely recover from COVID-19.
“We still have a long way to go until we achieve the Federal Reserve’s maximum employment goal,” Williams said, according to The New York Times.