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Judge Sides With State, Rejects Request to Reinstate Pandemic Benefits Program

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A superior court judge is dismissing a lawsuit brought against the state over the early termination of certain unemployment benefits provided during the pandemic.

In August, four residents sued, alleging Gov. Chris Sununu violated state law when he ended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal benefits program that awarded $300 in weekly benefits to self-employed and gig workers who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

The plaintiffs argued the wording of the CARES Act, along with the Social Security Act, made participation in the program mandatory.

In a 10-page ruling handed down Monday, however, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn rejected a request for a preliminary injunction, and also dismissed the suit outright.

“Because all of the plaintiffs’ claims for relief are premised on flawed interpretations” of the statute, Colburn wrote, “the Court further finds that the plaintiffs cannot succeed on the merits of their claims as a matter of law.”

Sununu hailed the decision, writing in a statement that “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.”

In May, Sununu announced he would end New Hampshire’s participation in the federal benefits program, following the lead of other Republican governors. They argued the enhanced benefits were keeping workers sidelined while employers struggled to fill positions, though researchers ultimately found states that ended programs early didn’t see greater job creation.

The federal program expired in early September, though plaintiffs were seeking retroactive benefits.

“The plaintiffs are reviewing the decision, and we are considering all options at this point, including appeal,” Mike Perez, who represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in at least a dozen other states.

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