BALTIMORE — The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a six-month contract extension worth $26 million with Alorica, a California company providing staffing to assist with adjudicating unemployment insurance claims.
The Department of Labor said the contract is still needed as a result of the unprecedented volume of unemployment claims and issues related to qualification for benefits.
Alorica was awarded the one-year contract with a six-month renewal option in November 2020.
Despite offering to provide up to 675 adjudicators for $70.9 million, there are approximately 250 Alorica adjudicators investigating claims.
Meanwhile, 18,551 claims are still pending adjudication.
Michael Edwards is one of those claimants. And to him, an adjudicator is almost mythical.
"Is this some kind of secret society or you have to go to some type of initiation?," asked Edwards who filed his claim in November 2020.
But recently, he was told it was finally his turn to speak with one.
"I thought I was going to finally meet this elusive adjudicator that everyone kept pushing it off on, but it wasn’t, it was a case manager," said Edwards.
The case worker told him they found a different issue with his claim and an adjudicator would contact him with 48 business hours, or six days.
"It’s like stonewalling, it makes no sense. I’m like can I at least get a rough estimate of what day or time so I can be available if in fact you’re going to call," said Edwards.
Around one year ago, there were 47,700 claims pending adjudication. On August 26, 2021, right before federal pandemic unemployment programs expired, 21,200 claims were pending adjudication.
The Department said the contract with Alorica is up to $70.9 million and they are only obligated to pay what is invoiced.
According to invoices obtained by WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii, Alorica has invoiced $14.2 million between December 2020 and August 2021. Of that, $791,400 was spent on training adjudicators.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot asked Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson about the vendor's performance before approving the contract extension.
"This adjudication work is extremely complex - it requires college degrees, finger-printing, extensive and ongoing training and auditing, it has been difficult for this vendor to recruit for this position and the vendor has experienced turnover," said Robinson during the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday morning.
Robinson added that it's important the state continues the contract with Alorica to resolve all claims.
"As they are trained, and the longer that they’re with us, as you can imagine the job’s so complex, they get more and more efficient so we do hope to continue to using them for the six-month option to make sure we get through every single claimant," Robinson said.
The contract is being paid with federal funds.
Edwards is supposed to hear from an adjudicator by this Thursday, and he hopes he does. He said he has around $13,000 sitting in limbo that he needs right now.
"I'm working part time now, but I could be working more if I had a vehicle. I’m only working where I can get to on the metro and I’m in a lot of debt because of that," said Edwards.
Robinson also said the Department's call volume has gone down significantly and she's hopeful in the coming weeks that they'll be able to answer every single call every day.
The Department added that as of October 19, 844,403 claims or 97.9 percent have been processed, 716,136 or 83 percent of claimants have received their benefits, and 128,269 or 14.9 percent of claimants were denied benefits.