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Md. Lawmakers Float Legislation to Reform Unemployment Insurance System

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect thousands of Marylanders in the job market, the state’s unemployment insurance claims could increase for a sixth straight week when weekly figures are released Thursday, Feb. 11.

The state Department of Labor reported more than 50,000 unemployment insurance claims filed the week ending Jan. 30, which marked the fifth straight week they increased in the state. The majority Black jurisdiction of Prince George’s County recorded the highest number of claims filed with 2,000.

State lawmakers plan to present a legislative package this week on ways to enhance the state’s “broken” unemployment insurance system.

About 85 of the 4,000 active unemployment cases come from Senate President Bill Ferguson’s district in Baltimore City.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is about the people of Maryland who need help and we must do right by them,” he said during a virtual press conference Feb. 4. “Now that the legislature is in session, we are determined to do our part and provide the correct tools to ensure we do better.”

The legislative package would be filed through multiple bills to include:

Modernize the unemployment insurance system so people can receive benefits through direct deposit.
Adequately staff the call center and require caller ID to show that a representative is calling from the state Department of Labor’s unemployment office.
Require the department to undertake a study to analyze several items such as weekly benefits, long-term solvency and expanded eligibility. Part of the requirement would be to provide monthly updates until completion of a final report at the end of the year.

Since the pandemic affected Maryland last year, the state’s unemployment office has received major criticism from thousands of residents who either received payments months later, or not at all.

The Senate approved an amendment this month to provide $1,000 for 39,000 residents who Ferguson said are “stuck in adjudication purgatory. Marylanders need help.”

In terms of additional staff, the Senate seeks to add one person from each of the 47 senatorial districts.

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) said the department hired about 300 people from a vendor.

The national goal to adjudicate claims stands at 87 percent in a three-week period. Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics ranked Maryland last at 37 percent.

Del. Dereck Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville said the legislature wants to work with the department to improve the unemployment service, but the department remains a function of the executive branch.

“It’s incumbent upon us to work with them [and] to work with Gov. Hogan to ensure that the department is living up to its responsibilities to the citizens of Maryland,” Davis said. “We know they’re trying . . . but at the end of the day, trying is not good enough. We have to deliver.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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