“Nothing seems to be working here” MD lawmakers press Labor Secretary on unemployment issues

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 07:41:48-04

BALTIMORE — An oversight hearing on unemployment insurance legislation went in a different direction as lawmakers expressed their frustrations with the delayed delivery in benefits.

“Nothing seems to be working here. It just continues to go down and go down and go down and it’s like beating our heads on the wall,” said Senator Kathy Klausmeier, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight.

“If you look back through the bills that we passed, a lot of these issues would’ve gone away if parts of those bills would’ve been implemented, particularly the ones that just give people updates on the status of their cases. So, if I sound like I’m frustrated, I am because we continue to talk about the same things over and over,” said Delegate Ned Carey, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight.

The past session, the General Assembly approved an unemployment insurance reform package aimed at fixing the system.

Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson said many of those reforms are in the testing phase or still being implemented. There’s also a study on these system reforms underway. The results are expected to be released on December 1, 2021.

However, lawmakers weren’t pleased with the department’s progress.

Of the more than 820,000 complete claims filed, more then 20,000 or 2.5 percent are still pending.

“We’re still concerned about the people who didn’t commit fraud, who are still waiting for payment months and months later,” said Donna Edwards, the Maryland and D.C. AFL-CIO representative.

“'I can’t get through,' you know, 'I can’t get through.' I’d like to have a quarter for every I've heard 'I can’t get through' because I’d be rich,” said Klausmeier.

In addition to pending claims, fraud remains a major issue.

Klausmeier added that she’s been the victim of identity theft and received unemployment insurance payments in her name.

As of August 10, 1.6 million claims were flagged for fraud and nearly 92 percent were confirmed as fraudulent. More than 16,000 people are still waiting for their identity verification documents to be reviewed and approved.

Meanwhile, federal pandemic unemployment insurance programs are scheduled to expire in Maryland on September 4.

“I’m doing the best I can, and I can assure you that when we hit September and we get to the end of the federal claims we will have more capacity to get through every issue in the backlog and to answer more calls,” said Secretary Robinson.

Robinson said she’s aware of discussions about extending these programs, however, nothing has been approved.