The entire Maryland congressional delegation is seeking answers from the state Department Labor as to why the state’s distribution of unemployment insurance benefits was so badly mismanaged, especially when compared with that of other states throughout the nation.
The Friday eight-question letter to Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson by Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, Jamie Raskin, Kweisi Mfume, David Trone and Jon Sarbanes, and Republican Rep. Andy Harris-comes just days before the enhanced unemployment benefits are set to expire.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States, Congress acted quickly to provide expanded unemployment benefits to workers and administrative funding to states charged with processing UI claims and implementing these new assistance programs. However, many of our constituents dealt with delays and were unable to access their benefits,” the lawmakers wrote. “Almost a year and half later, we continue to hear from Marylanders needing assistance who have been unable to access their benefits or get answers from the Maryland Department of Labor (MDOL). As a delegation, we have worked to provide federal resources to help Maryland improve its UI system. Most recently, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which included $2 billion in funding to modernize our unemployment systems.
They added: “While we recognize that you must balance speed with preventing fraud and ensuring program integrity, Maryland has continued to lag behind other states and the national average in its distribution of benefits. In the first and second quarters of 2021, only 50.1% of first payments were made to Marylanders in 21 days, making Maryland one of the 10 slowest states to get benefits to claimants.”
The lawmakers pointed to national data as further evidence of that claim.
“In the first and second quarters of 2021, Maryland only resolved 34.6% of non-monetary determinations (i.e. eligibility issues) within 21 days, well below the national average of 49.6%. Maryland is one of four states – along with North Carolina, Montana, and Alaska – that consider mitigating circumstances in determining eligibility, and the other three states with similar rules all process a larger percentage of non-monetary determinations within 21 days. In addition to Marylanders with pending claims, some claimants who are actively receiving weekly benefits have not been paid retroactive benefits for their full period of eligibility.”
And the lawmakers urged the department to expeditiously step-up its adjudication process.
“As the federal unemployment benefits come to a close, we urge you to take steps to expedite adjudications, provide claimants with eligibility determinations, and to prioritize providing relief to claimants who have been waiting months to receive their UI benefits. We remain committed to partnering with your department to improve our state’s UI system to ensure that Marylanders facing unemployment and economic hardships receive urgently needed relief.”