BALTIMORE — Maryland lawmakers want to fix the unemployment system and send claimants, who have been waiting months, immediate relief.
On Friday, the RELIEF Act, which includes $1,000 grants to claimants stuck in "adjudication purgatory" cleared the Senate. The Governor praised the Senate’s expediency and encouraged the House to do the same.
If the version of the RELIEF Act signed into law includes the grants, then money could be sent out as early as the first week of March.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said the amendment including the payments was added to help tens of thousands of Marylanders hanging on by a thread.
40,000+ claims still pending
As of February 3, 43,694 claims are pending adjudication. Gary Beach’s claim is among them.
“My lease was terminated, so I’m out at the end of the month,” Beach said.
Claimants may receive the $1,000 grant if their claim has been pending a determination of eligibility and in adjudication for at least 30 days, with the exception of claims that may be held up due to fraud.
According to the Comptroller’s Office, these grants would go out via check or direct deposit depending on what information is provided by the Maryland Department of Labor.
A spokeswoman for the department didn’t immediately respond to WMAR-2 News’ request for more information.
As soon as the bill is signed, money could be issued within several days of receiving claimant’s information. The first batch of names are due by March 3 with a new deadline every month through July 6. Claimants may not receive more than one grant.
The Governor’s Office would not comment on the $1,000 grants. “It would be premature to speculate on provisions that aren't finalized,” wrote Michael Ricci.
Addressing the cause of pending claims
The Maryland Department of Labor has hired more adjudicators. Despite tens of thousands of new claims being filed every week, the backlog hasn’t exponentially grown, however, it hasn’t drastically shrunk either.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said the state's process of adjudicating claims needs to be reevaluated.
“We’re one of only four states in the country that we can’t get fast answers because we’re required to have a long drawn out appeals process that can take six months or 12 months,” said Hogan during a news conference in January.
Instead, Hogan wants Maryland to become a “pay or deny” state where determining whether an unemployment insurance claimant is disqualified is a one-step process.
If a claimant is denied, they’re able to file an appeal.
This is how it currently works in Wisconsin. And yet, the state also has a backlog of more than 15,000 cases now awaiting appeals.
“I ended up waiting a total of, I believe, 39 weeks,” said Samantha Serchen, an unemployment insurance claimant in Wisconsin.
“It's taking now four to six weeks just to process that appeal. And then it's going to be another four to six months before you get a hearing,” said Victor Forberger, a labor attorney representing Wisconsinites appealing denials.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said they're not considering this option.
“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.
Michael Ricci, Governor Hogan’s communications director, wrote in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii:
“There are a number of ways to address the mitigation problem, but legislators have demonstrated that they prefer to maintain the status quo and keep people stuck in limbo.”