The Bulletin Board

New Hampshire sued for early end to federal unemployment benefits

By: - August 27, 2021 5:00 pm
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The lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court on behalf of four people who received federal pandemic benefits. (Mario Tama | Getty Images)

This story was updated Aug. 30, 2021 at 8 a.m. to include comments from the governor and state Attorney General’s Office. 

New Hampshire is now one of 15 states that have been sued for ending federal unemployment benefits before they expire Sept. 6. Similar lawsuits have seen some success in at least three states, failed in several, and are pending in the rest. 

The lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court on behalf of four people who received federal pandemic benefits alleges the state Department of Employment Security did not have the discretion to end the federal benefits. The court has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 3.

The plaintiffs include a single mom from Manchester who lost her job when the pandemic shut down the state. She has been unable to find new work that accommodates her traumatic brain injury and has had to file for disability benefits, the lawsuit said. Also named are a self-employed contractor from Dover who was relying on federal unemployment as he rebuilds his business, and a website content creator from Manchester who felt unsafe returning to work, where five co-workers tested positive for COVID-19, because her family members have health conditions.

The federal money provided unemployment assistance to workers typically eligible for state unemployment but also those who are not, including self-employed and gig workers, and people who had to leave their jobs for qualifying pandemic-related reasons. In addition, the federal benefits gave all of them an additional $600 a week initially, later cut to $300. 

In addition to the department, the lawsuit also names Commissioner George Copadis, although it was Gov. Chris Sununu who announced in May the early end of federal aid. Sununu said at the time there were nearly 14,250 job postings within the state and announced $10 million in stipends to workers who got off unemployment, took a job, and kept it for at least eight weeks. 

Courts in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Louisiana rejected similar lawsuits, while in Maryland, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, courts have ordered benefits reinstated while lawsuits are pending.

Copadis referred a request for comment to the state Attorney General’s Office. Spokeswoman Kate Giaquinto said in an email her office will be reviewing the complaint but does not comment on pending litigation.

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said the early end of federal unemployment received “resounding support from people across the aisle” when it was announced three months ago. “The state gave citizens over a month’s notice – as required by the contract with the U.S. Department of Labor,” he said. “This lawsuit, filed less than two weeks before the federal programs expire, is nothing more than a political stunt as the state moves forward with one of the fastest rebounding economies in the country.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]