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Secretary of Labor answers lawmakers' questions on unemployment

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Posted at 6:28 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 07:28:48-04

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Secretary of Labor said her agency continues to work around the clock to process the hundreds of thousands of unemployment insurance claims they've received in the last two months.

On Wednesday, Secretary Tiffany Robinson provided an update on the state's unemployment system to the House Economic Matters Committee. The virtual briefing was held a day after hundreds testified in an hours-long hearing on unemployment issues in front of two State Senate committees.

RELATED: Claimants express their frustrations in hours-long hearing on unemployment insurance

Of the 494,728 new claims Labor has received since March 9, 327,629 claims, or 66 percent, have been paid. However, 135,533 claims are still pending adjudication.

Secretary Robinson said a number of the pending claims may have been claimants who had been receiving regular unemployment insurance questions, but lost their benefits following the switch to the BEACON One-Stop system. She added these claimants can fall into this category for a number of reasons including difficulties confirming information with a claimant's employer or answering weekly claim certification questions incorrectly.

"We found that many of the regular UI claimants may have answered a question incorrectly, and we have gone through to try and correct a lot of that. We also have a lot of claimants who were receiving payments and whose employers when they were first laid off put in a return to work date," said Robinson. "That triggers a stop of their weekly payments and it triggers a need for our team to contact the employer get something in writing from them that tells us they’re still closed and we want to extend that return to work date."

RELATED: Questions about Maryland unemployment? We have answers.

When asked why Labor doesn't do away with return to work dates, Robinson said they've reached out to employers and received feedback that many wish to keep the date in place, particularly essential businesses, and employers needing to keep workers on the payroll to qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness.

"We obviously want to serve every single claimant filing for benefits, but we also need to serve the employers in our system who are paying taxes and making these benefits available for Marylanders as well," Robinson.

Robinson was questioned about the extended call wait times and unanswered phone calls.

"We have a certain number of phone lines of 200. We are working to expand that capacity up to 540," said Robinson.

Delegates also pressed Robinson on ways to streamline the process including dropping weekly claim certifications, to which Robinson responded that's not an option.

"The federal government will not allow us to waive the weekly certification requirement," she said.

Robinson reiterated that her team is working hard. They’re doing what they can and they want to make it right.

"Honestly, we just need to continue pushing through to resolve every single claimant’s issue so we can get everyone eligible paid for their benefits as quickly as possible. The sheer volume is the biggest issue facing myself, Maryland, and every other state," said Robinson.

Delegates have been asked to submit weekly reports of issues their constituents are running into so the Department of Labor can develop solutions.

To see the full hearing, click here.