The Dept. is expected to get more personnel to help out.
Annapolis, Md (KM) It’s been a busy time at the Maryland Department of Labor which is trying to assist people who are applying for unemployment benefits. These individuals lost their jobs when businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Secretary Tiffany Robinson, who spoke during the Governor’s news conference on Friday in Annapolis, said 95% of residents who applied did so on line. But her office is working hard to assist those who are filing their claims by phone. “To help spread out this large volume of phone calls, we’ve implemented a new filing procedure and encouraged claimants to file on a certain day based the first letter of their last name,” she said “This is helping to reduce wait times, but not enough.”
However, she says more staff is coming on board. “We’re also in the process of ramping up the size of our unemployment our insurance team by temporarily reassigning over 150 state employees, and hiring additional contractual employee. We’re in the process of more than doubling our claim center staffing,” says Robinson. “This will ensure that we can better insure our customers and reducing the backlog of phone calls.”
During the past month, Robinson says more than 240,000 people filed for claims, which is more than all of 2019. In addition, as of Thursday of last week, more than 108,000 filed for new unemployment claims.
“Despite the volume of claims,” she says. “most Marylanders are receiving their first benefit payment in less than 21 days. This first payment, which comes to a debit card, covers all weekly benefits back to a claimant’s date of eligibility.”
As part of the $2.2-trillion CARES Act passed last month, Robinson says the Department will begin implementation of the new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. this week. “Everyone eligible for benefits ending the week of April 4th will begin receiving an additional $600 per week on top of current regular benefits,”: she says.
The Department of Labor is also working with a contractor to begin implementing two other federal programs. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, or PUA, will expand eligibility to those who are self-employed, independent contractors or gig workers, or those who have insufficient work history.
Another program, called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, would allow Marylanders currently receiving benefits as well as newly approved claimants, to receive 13 additional weeks of unemployment insurance benefits.
By Kevin McManus