The number of new unemployment claims in Maryland increased by more than 10,000 last week, the state's labor department reported Thursday, as difficulties in navigating a state website to receive benefits continue to bedevil the unemployed and bring criticism to Gov. Larry Hogan's administration.
There were 53,464 claims filed last week, compared to 43,095 the week before. About 759,000 Maryland residents have filed for unemployment since March 14 due to the effect of the coronavirus on the economy.
Many residents have struggled to navigate Maryland’s website to receive benefits. At a hearing last month conducted online with state lawmakers, about 1,100 people signed up to testify about their experiences. About 275 people testified over nine hours. They used words like “hell” and “soul crushing” to describe long waits, only to get booted out of the system and forcing them to try again the next day.
Sen. Brian Feldman testified at an online hearing this week that the unemployment insurance system “is still a complete disaster.”
“And that's a month after 1,100 people signed up to testify,” Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, said Tuesday. “We only took the first 275 in nine hours — horror story after horror story.”
Hogan said Wednesday the state has paid hundreds of thousands of people $2.2 billion so far. He said many of remaining people who have not received benefits unfortunately do not qualify due to federal rules. He said it's been “very, very frustrating,” but attributed the problem to the federal government creating “very cumbersome” programs.
“We’ve paid out a huge percentage of them," Hogan, a Republican, said. "The remaining people, which I think is about 13% that we’re trying to adjudicate, many of them may not qualify.”
The governor said the state is trying to help them.
“We could just tell them all, ‘sorry, you’re not going to get paid,’ but the position our state has been taking is trying really hard to jump through hoops to see if we can’t get these folks, because they’re desperately in need of help, but unfortunately the federal program will not allow us to pay them so far.”
During a joint hearing of House and Senate lawmakers Tuesday, an employee of the state’s labor department said there was a shortage of trained staff to help people.
“Because we have so many people who cannot get through to a (unemployment insurance) professional via email or phone, many cannot get answers why they have not received their payment,” said Sean Santmyire, who is a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson expressed frustration with what he called “unending problems with unemployment insurance” during an online hearing Wednesday.
“It has just not gotten better," Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said. "There have been minor moderate fixes here and there, but I will speak personally that I am just exhausted and furious that we have not seen the amount of progress that is necessary. We have too many of our constituents who continue to not get answers.”