BALTIMORE — Federal pandemic unemployment insurance programs expire in Maryland next week, and 21,200 claims are still pending further investigation, according to the state labor department.
Last November, the Maryland Department of Labor hired Alorica to assist with the backlog of claims pending adjudication.
Alorica agreed to provide up to 675 adjudicators for $70.9 million. Right now, the full-time headcount is approximately 250 adjudicators.
“We are hanging on by a thread keeping our home that we rent,” said Melonie Merryman.
Merryman had to leave her hotel job last November to care for her five kids. She applied for unemployment insurance benefits but has yet to receive any money.
She was told her claim is pending adjudication. And while she finally spoke with an adjudicator in July, nothing has changed.
“It’s very hard. It’s very stressful, it just weighs on you every single day that you’re just hoping to get this income in. And I’ve applied to so many jobs and they say oh, everybody’s hiring, but Mallory, I can’t tell you how many applications I’ve put in. I’ve gone to interviews, no callbacks, nothing. And it’s just heart wrenching to know that you’re that close to being out on the streets with your children,” Merryman said.
Timothy Lamm lost his job last November. He waited until May to speak with an adjudicator.
“She said I was red flagged for a temporary job service in July 2019,” said Lamm.
Despite working more than a year at a new job, this flag blocked his benefits until someone got around to speaking with him. During that time, he lost his home.
“It left me homeless, transitional homeless I think they call it,” Lamm said.
Lamm now lives with his daughter in North Carolina while he waits for his backpay.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson in February about this backlog. She said they were making progress on pending claims and working to train more adjudicators.
“I believe we have about 150 adjudicators, so we’re bringing on hundreds more,” said Robinson on February 23.
Sofastaii asked Alorica and the department why they’re not fully staffed and if they’re facing challenges hiring. Neither answered those specific questions.
A department spokeswoman wrote:
We currently have 250 adjudicators from Alorica working with the department, and we continue to hire and train new adjudicators on an ongoing basis in partnership with our vendor. This is in addition to our existing state staff and our 1,776 Accenture staff. The department submits administrative costs to the federal government for reimbursement. The department greatly appreciates the services that Alorica’s adjudicators are providing to assist claimants and reduce the backlog.
But with the clock on federal programs about to expire, and claimants, like Merryman, approach a year without a penny, it’s unclear when all cases will be resolved.
“Just someone, just please give me some answers. Am I’m doing these things right? Did I do everything on my end that I’m supposed to? How long do I have to wait before they say yes, we’ll approve you, or no, sorry?” Merryman asked.
The department added that the contract is up to $70.9 million and they only pay for adjudicators that have been hired.
Sofastaii requested information on how much the state has paid using federal funds so far. She also asked if Secretary Robinson had any concerns about the current level of staffing. Sofastaii hasn’t yet heard back.
In addition to the contract costs, the General Assembly approved emergency grants for claimants stuck in adjudication purgatory at least 30 days. The state paid out over $40 million.