Md. lawmakers propose unemployment system reforms, Hogan's office calls it a "band-aid"

Posted at 1:15 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 18:10:12-05

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Democratic state legislative leaders on Thursday introduced a package aimed at reforming Maryland's unemployment insurance system.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones say the legislation would provide several immediate fixes.

Among the highlights is modernizing the system to where benefits can be received by direct deposit and simplifying the process to receive paper checks.

Staffing at call centers is also addressed. State lawmakers want residents to have the ability to leave a call back number and for caller ID to show that it's them returning your call.

The proposal also calls for a review of the unemployment website, to ensure information is easy to find and understand.

Applicants would be able to utilize a check box to get their information to the Health Benefit Exchange for insurance assistance.

The Department of Labor would be required to track the percentage of laid off workers who apply for benefits and establish mandated goals, which would create metrics for claim adjudication and set response times.

”For the last ten months, we have been in a crisis in our state when it comes to Unemployment Insurance,” said Ferguson. “This legislative package will make certain that Marylanders experience better customer service, faster response times, and will prepare the Department to make certain this crisis never occurs again.”

Ferguson added that claimants stuck in "adjudication purgatory" could receive a direct payment.

"Incorporated in the amendment that was adopted in the Senate is a payment of $1,000 for the 39,000 Marylanders who are stuck in adjudication purgatory," said Ferguson.

Some of the more long-term solutions included in the bills include increases to income disregard, meaning residents would be allowed to earn some money while still receiving unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers claim the bill would also help businesses stuck dealing with increased costs of unemployment insurance.

The Labor Department would be tasked with exploring broader reforms regarding maximum weekly benefits, experience ratings, long term solvency, and expanded eligibility.

They would be required to provide monthly updates until completing the final report at year's end.

In the future, the department would more easily be able to increase staffing to provide quicker more efficient service.

A spokesman for Governor Larry Hogan called the proposals a "band-aid," saying they don't even come close to a real and permanent fix.

"It falls so far short of what people need right now. It does not address the root problem of having a system that operates completely differently in resolving cases from 46 other states," Michael Ricci wrote in a statement. "That may be how legislators want it, but they are needlessly keeping far too many people trapped in limbo."

Maryland is one of four mitigation states meaning its required to investigate claims before straight out denying the claim and permitting the applicant to appeal the decision.

Ferguson said the answer to this problem isn’t being able to deny people more quickly.

"If the response to this crisis is to find ways to deny more claims, then we will have failed as a state. What we need to do is fix the system and adjudicate the claims faster," said Ferguson.

Ricci also defended the state's unemployment system.

"Maryland has one of the strongest unemployment systems in the country, consistently resolving more than 95 percent of claims throughout the pandemic and aggressively blocking fraud at every turn," Ricci wrote.

Federal data shows Maryland had the worst percentage of timely delivery of first-time payments compared to other states. The federal standard is 87 percent of first-time payments within 21 days. For the month of December 2020, Maryland paid 37 percent of first-time payments within 21 days.

The bill is scheduled to be introduced sometime this week.