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Maryland Congressional Delegation Pushes for Answers from State Department of Labor on Delivery of Unemployment Benefits

Aug 27, 2021
Press Release
Members point to Maryland’s poor performance compared to other states and continued outreach from constituents left in the lurch

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), joined by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Representatives Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Andy Harris, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone, sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Labor (MDOL) pressing for answers regarding their delivery of unemployment benefits to Marylanders impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and urging the agency to expedite distribution of these crucial benefits. In their letter, the members stress the importance of a timely delivery of these benefits and request MDOL to provide data on the current status of benefits, including how many Marylanders have received payments, the amount of payments disbursed, the number of claims that are currently pending, and the average turnaround time for adjudicating claims.

The members begin, “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. 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).”

They continue, “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 expanded federal UI benefits have provided a lifeline to struggling families across Maryland as they have dealt with an unprecedented crisis and faced extreme hardships. But too many Marylanders have to contend with the added hardship of struggling to access the benefits they are owed. Too many have spent hours on the phone or contacted MDOL with no response and dealt with extensive delays as they try to access the benefits they need,” the lawmakers say.

The members go on to ask MDOL to provide answers on several questions regarding the status of current benefits claims. They close the letter stating, “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.”

The full letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Robinson:

In light of the upcoming expiration of federal unemployment programs and benefits, we write as members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation to obtain information on the support these programs have provided for Marylanders and the state’s administration of the programs.

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. 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.

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.

In the first and second quarters of 2021, Maryland only resolved 34.6% of nonmonetary 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 nonmonetary 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.

The expanded federal UI benefits have provided a lifeline to struggling families across Maryland as they have dealt with an unprecedented crisis and faced extreme hardships. But too many Marylanders have to contend with the added hardship of struggling to access the benefits they are owed. Too many have spent hours on the phone or contacted MDOL with no response and dealt with extensive delays as they try to access the benefits they need.

In order to improve our federal and state UI systems and help our constituents access much-needed benefits, we ask that you respond to the following questions:

  1. How many Marylanders have received payments under each of the following federal unemployment programs: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation?
  2. What is the total amount that Marylanders have been paid through each of the federal programs listed above?
  3. How many complete initial claims for unemployment compensation that have been filed by Maryland workers are currently pending a final eligibility determination?
  4. Of these complete initial claims that are currently pending a final eligibility determination, what is the average length of time, taken from the date of the completed initial filing of the claim to the current date, that these claims have been pending?
  5. For claims that undergo the adjudication process, what is the average length of time, taken from the date of the completed initial filing of the claim to when the adjudication is completed, it is taking for these claims to be fully processed and for the claimant to receive a final eligibility determination?
  6. The United States Department of Labor DOL (USDOL) recently announced that it has begun to utilize funding from the American Rescue Plan to help states improve their UI systems.
    1. Has MDOL requested or planned to request the assistance that USDOL is offering on identity verification to combat fraud and reduce claims backlogs?
    2. USDOL has deployed “Tiger Teams” teams to six states to identify process improvements that can speed benefit delivery, address equity, and fight fraud. Has MDOL requested a Tiger Team to help it reduce its claim backlog?
  7. What is MDOL’s procedure for resolving retroactive payment issues?
  8. As federal payments terminate, what is MDOL’s plan and projected timeline to ensure that all Marylanders receive the full amount of federal benefits they are due? 

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.

Sincerely,