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Granite Staters File Lawsuit To Reinstate Some Pandemic Unemployment Benefits

Application for Unemployment Benefits and Employment Service.
The New Hampshire lawsuit focuses on one federal pandemic program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.

New Hampshire joined a growing number of states where unemployed workers are filing lawsuits to reinstate pandemic unemployment benefits after they ended prematurely.

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The local lawsuit focuses on one federal program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. It provides benefits to gig workers and the self-employed. Those types of workers have historically not qualified for unemployment insurance. Prior to the PUA cutoff on June 19, around 6,000 Granite Staters were collecting the benefit.

Michael Perez of Perez Law represents four plaintiffs in the case. He says the suit focuses on the PUA program because unlike other pandemic programs, the state should not be able to opt out, based on language in the CARES Act.

He says while a provision exists for states to terminate other programs, such a provision does not exist for PUA. Additionally, Perez argues, two other sections in the law make the program mandatory.

Perez also says language already in New Hampshire law obligates the state to distribute a program like PUA. He says courts in a few other states with similar statutes, like Arkansas and Ohio, have ruled benefits must be reinstated in similar challenges. Ultimately, Perez says, the success of the case hinges on the minutiae of a few words in state law.

Stephanie McKay of Plaistow runs a Facebook group providing support for thousands of people in New Hampshire navigating the unemployment system amidst the pandemic. She says these benefits are critical for many families who face barriers when trying to re-enter the workforce. Over the summer, childcare has been a major problem for many members of the Facebook group.

“Single parents, parents in general, they don’t have child care,” McKay says, speaking from experience. She considered sending her daughter to camp this summer, but places filled in an hour. "Even if I could afford to send her, I couldn’t get a spot,” she says.

While the federal program is set to expire on September 6, the benefits could be redistributed retroactively.

The hearing is scheduled for September 3.

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