BALTIMORE — Tens of thousands of Marylanders are still waiting on their unemployment insurance benefits. As of January 9, there are 42,952 pending claims requiring further investigation, according to the Maryland Department of Labor.
Brooke Page has been waiting since November. She continues to file weekly claim certifications but hasn’t received any information as to when her payments will be processed.
She’s struggled to reach anyone at the department, and when she does get through, she’s told she needs to wait for a phone call. And while she’s been waiting, she’s been denied other benefits.
“I never received one check from unemployment, and I went to file for government assistance and they tried to tell me that I was claiming unemployment and I’m still fighting on that too,” Page said.
Page has applied for jobs, however, she’s been told several times that companies aren't hiring. She feels her only option is to continue fighting for a lifeline for her and her 2-year-old daughter.
“I don’t have anything really for my daughter. I was going off of the little money that I had. My family helps me when they can but they’re barely surviving off of whatever they get,” said Page.
Legislators have tried sending claimant's names to the Department of Labor for faster processing but their lists are never-ending.
“We’re now nine months in and we’re still seeing the same level of delays. It has been incredibly frustrating to get movement for our constituents,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).
Governor Larry Hogan has a different take. In a news conference on Thursday, he said: “I think we’re doing better than other state in the country.“
"I think we’re way ahead than any other state," said Hogan.
Lawmakers working on new legislation to improve unemployment system
Ferguson said the legislature is looking at ways to fix the system starting with restaffing the Department of Labor.
“It had been gutted prior to the pandemic happening, so we need mandate a certain personnel hiring standard so we don’t find ourselves having to catch up again,” Ferguson said.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii has heard from several legislators that bills will likely be introduced next week.
The state is also waiting to follow the lead of the federal government.
“We will need to urgently match our state legislative framework to the reforms that are being recommended by the Biden Administration on the distribution of unemployment,” said Ferguson.
And legislators hope to fill the gap in claimants being disqualified due to no fault of their own.
“A parent who was not fired or laid off but they voluntarily chose to stop working because their children are at home for virtual learning,” said Ferguson. “We need to get support to those individuals so they can hang on as we get through these final parts, hopefully the final parts of this pandemic.”
Claimants report "glitch" in system
A number of claimants have also reported a glitch that suddenly changed their status to on hold due to separation reasons.
The department didn’t acknowledge the error but confirmed to Sofastaii that “payments have been cleared to all eligible claimants who received a separation notice after reopening their claim.”
Employers also have 10 days to respond to a Request for Separation Information. If no response is received within that time, then the hold on payment is released. If the employer responds within that time, the hold may remain based on the reason for separation.
New Maryland unemployment claims
Maryland saw a spike in new unemployment claims for the week ending January 9. More than 31,000 Marylanders filed for benefits compared to 11,013 for the week ending January 2.
The department has paid out $8,855,038,259 in state and federal unemployment benefits and processed 837,152 (95.1%) claims with 714,459 (81.2%) claimants receiving payment and 122,693 (13.9%) claimants being denied. There was a minor increase in the pending rate from 41,099 (4.7%) the week ending January 2 to 42,952 (4.9%) the week ending January 9.