Citing months of issues with Maryland’s unemployment insurance program that has led to numerous delays and frustration among residents to even get through to make a claim, Democrats in the state General Assembly are proposing a package of reforms.
In a joint statement, state leaders, including Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, and other Democrats in the Senate and House, said Maryland has been enduring what Ferguson called a “crisis” for the past 10 months linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of highlights of the reform package include a direct deposit option to receive benefits faster, ensuring enough staffing at call centers, and providing callers with a better way to leave a callback number.
“Legislators and staff of both parties have spent the year trying to get thousands of desperate constituents answers on their UI claims,” Jones said. “We’ve seen the dysfunction up close. We’re going to help unemployed Marylanders right away and chart a new vision for our UI system so we’re prepared for future challenges.”
Other proposals include relaxing the income threshold to receive benefits while earning some money, and help for businesses to handle increasing unemployment insurance costs because of layoffs
But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has previously signaled that major reforms are not necessary.
Just last month, Hogan said Maryland “is doing better than any other state in the country” and “way ahead of any other state” in meeting unemployment needs.
A Hogan spokesman called the Democratic plan “a Band-Aid and not even close to a real and permanent fix.”
Part of the statement obtained by WTOP goes on to say that Maryland “has one of the strongest unemployment systems in the country,” and has been “consistently resolving more than 95% of claims throughout the pandemic and aggressively blocking fraud at every turn.”
The office provided a pie chart to WTOP with data showing 893,912 claims processed as of Feb. 3.
Some 754,272 have been paid out, according to the governor’s chart, with 139,640 denials and 43,694 still pending.
State legislators are also still in the process of considering Hogan’s $1 billion COVID-19 relief package, with a final vote expected in the Senate on Friday.
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