Judge Rejects Lawsuit On Early End To Unemployment Benefits

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging a decision by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's administration to end unemployment benefits under the federal CARES Act early, saying the claims are based on flawed interpretations of state law.

The pandemic-related benefits were scheduled to run out on Sept. 6. The lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Superior Court in Nashua against the state of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Employment Security and its commissioner asked a judge to reinstate the benefits dating back to June 19, when they were ended.

In her ruling, Judge Jacalyn Colburn wrote “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."

New Hampshire was among the first to expand eligibility for unemployment benefits when the pandemic first struck. Thousands of people were collecting unemployment benefits, including $300 per week supplemental payments either from the state or a federal program created during the pandemic. The state decided to end the extra payments early because the unemployment rate had dropped and given the abundance of available jobs, Sununu had said.

“I would like to thank the Court for their clear, concise, and decisive ruling,” Sununu said in a statement. “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.”

Michael Perez, an attorney representing the four residents who sued, had said neither state nor federal law gives New Hampshire Employment Security the authority to abandon a program known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance before it expires.

“We are reviewing the decision and considering all options at this point, including appeal," Perez said in an email.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

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SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER

A school board member in Weare has resigned after the board voted 3-2 to require masks indoors when there is a COVID-19 outbreak with multiple clusters.

Rochelle Kelley submitted her letter of resignation on Thursday, the Concord Monitor reported. She has actively called for masks to be optional in schools. The board vote was Sept. 21.

“Forcing a child to do something with their body that they do not want to do, is in fact child abuse,” Kelley wrote in her letter.

In August, Kelley was cleared of disorderly conduct charges stemming from an incident in which police asked people to leave a Concord playground in April 2020 that was closed as a pandemic precaution.

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THE NUMBERS

More than 117,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 625 cases announced Friday. Three new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 1,472.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 343 new cases per day on Sept. 11 to 447 new cases per day on Saturday.