Maryland Sen. Delores Kelley helps lead a May 12 virtual joint committee briefing to hear from residents frustrated by the state's unemployment filing process.
Maryland Sen. Delores Kelley helps lead a May 12 virtual joint committee briefing to hear from residents frustrated by the state's unemployment filing process.

The Maryland Senate’s Budget and Taxation and Finance committees held a virtual joint briefing Tuesday to hear from residents who still haven’t received unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic began, and the resounding message from the dozens of participants was clear: Help us.

Some residents such as DeWayne Knight of Prince George’s County experienced computer problems when he tried to file his claim in March under the old unemployment system through the state Department of Labor. When he returned to continue filing his claim through the new Beacon system, he had to start over again.

“We are about 12 weeks down the road and I can’t even expect compensation because [the state] doesn’t identify me of having a claim, even though I have a claimant number,” he said. “I think that’s pretty tragic.”

Argo Duenas, who’s owned Back to Nature Health and Wellness Center in Annapolis for 30 years, worries about the health issues that may arise from long-term unemployment.

“This is creating health issues for many of us,” she said. “There’s a body, mind, spirit connection and stress can cause all types of health problems. It’s affecting every aspect of our lives.”

About 1,100 people registered to speak before the committees to express frustration with a flawed computer system. In addition, a few residents described their experience in waiting for a person on the phone for more than 10 hours due to jammed call lines.

The first 270 Marylanders who signed up, which included child care workers, self-employed business owners and other workers, spoke via Zoom. Some were single mothers such as Angela Teague of Cecil County, who testified she waited 11½ hours to file an unemployment claim on the Beacon system.

Several residents said they received more help after they joined a Facebook group called Maryland Unemployment DIY – REAL ANSWERS. As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, it had roughly 19,000 members.

Sen. Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the Finance Committee, expressed constant appreciation for residents to speak.

“You are doing your part and we appreciate that,” she said.

Before the meeting began around 1 p.m., the state Department of Labor issued a statement to outline 56,000 pandemic unemployment assistant claims have been paid for a total of $165 million.

The department received 214,475 claims last year, according to the state. Since March alone, the department has received double that amount.

“The unprecedented volume of new claims, and constantly changing guidelines from the federal government, have presented a series of challenges not only for our department, but for unemployment programs across the nation,” Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said in a statement. “While we are making progress, there are still many frustrated Marylanders waiting to receive benefits. Please know that we are listening, we know what needs to be improved and we are focused on getting the job done. We will not be satisfied until every Marylander gets the relief they need and deserve.”

Gov. Larry Hogan said at a May 6 press conference in Annapolis the glitches in the new system has been “completely fixed for at least 10 days.”

“I promised at a press conference a week ago we were going to get it fixed and we got it fixed in a matter of days,” he said.

Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery County) said Tuesday that isn’t the case because he continues to receive calls from his constituents about problems in filing claims.

“This rests at the feet of Gov. Hogan,” said Kramer, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “It is Gov. Hogan who is at the top of the food chain. If I were sitting in the governor’s mansion right now, I’d get up, I would go down to the [Department of Labor] office and I would be answering those phones myself.”

The committees continued to hear testimony beyond 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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