Despite Unprecedented Volume of New Claims and Hurdles to Implementing New Federal Programs, 90% of Claimants Received Payments Within 21 Days
Since Saturday, Maryland Has Paid 56,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claims, Totaling $165 Million Maryland Is Only State With Comprehensive System for Both Regular and CARES Act Benefits
News Release, Maryland Department of Labor
BALTIMORE (May 12, 2020) – Maryland Department of Labor (Labor) Secretary Tiffany P. Robinson today provided an update about the processing and payment of unemployment insurance claims in Maryland since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the unprecedented volume of claims and hurdles to implementing new federal programs, Maryland has been able to pay 327,649 of the unemployment claims received during the pandemic, and 90% of claimants have received payments within 21 days. Since Saturday, Maryland has paid 56,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims, totaling more than $165 million in relief.
“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,” said Labor Secretary Robinson. “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.”
During the entire year of 2019, our department received 214,475 claims. We have received more than double this amount since March. In fact, Maryland has experienced multiple record-breaking weeks where initial claim filings have exceeded 100,000, compared to the average of 2,000 weekly claims received pre-pandemic.
Over the last several weeks, states have had to make a series of changes to unemployment programs due to an unprecedented increase in the volume of claims, as well as new programs passed by Congress. The department has more than doubled its claim center staffing, and built a new website to specifically handle new federal programs. As a result of these efforts, Maryland is still the only state with a comprehensive system that allows individuals to file a claim for both regular and CARES Act unemployment insurance benefits in one place. All Marylanders can file all types of claims online while experiencing zero to minimal wait times on the site.
In the midst of ramping up this operation, our department still must follow strict procedures while processing and determining eligibility for regular unemployment insurance claims as required by USDOL. The federal administration has issued more than a dozen updates to guidance for these new programs, requiring changes that need to be made to the filing process.
Under the state of emergency declared by the governor, we have sought permission to relax and waive some of these procedures. For example, Secretary Robinson ordered a temporary exemption from the work search requirement for individuals receiving unemployment insurance benefits for a ten week period, which became effective March 20, 2020. As of this week, the Secretary has further extended this exemption to last the duration of the state of emergency plus 30 days.
In addition, the Division of Unemployment Insurance has relaxed other standards that affect a claimant’s potential eligibility, including being able to work and available for work. The Division automatically registers claimants to utilize our public jobs system. The Division has also relaxed deadlines to return documentation, protest determinations, and file appeals. However, there are many procedures we cannot waive or relax to maintain the integrity of the unemployment insurance program, like the weekly claim certifications and the adjudication process for claims that have issues detected.
When a claimant files for benefits, it is not equivalent to being approved for benefits. It is the start of the process. We must verify the applicant’s information, contact the employer for the reasons surrounding the separation and, in turn, make an eligibility determination with the information that has been gathered. This process typically takes 21 days. However, most PUA and PEUC applications will be processed much faster than this average time frame due to the streamlined eligibility verification process.
Every individual’s claim can be very different, so some claims may take longer to process than others for numerous reasons. Claims may not include sufficient documentation, there may be disagreements between the employer and claimant about the reasons for separation, wage discrepancies or issues with incorrect information, which may then require feedback from the employer and/or claimant. All of these situations, and more, require manual review and adjudication before a claimant can be found eligible or ineligible for benefits, which can add to the complexity and timeline of a case. The adjudication process takes on average three weeks, but our department is diligently working through claims as quickly as possible to shorten that timeline.
As these claims are adjudicated, some may be denied. Of the claims that have already been denied, the large majority of them were denied because they were determined to be monetarily ineligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits. If you make over $430 a week, you are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits. Claimants are also denied benefits if they voluntarily separated from their employment or were fired for misconduct.
Our department will continue to expand our capacity and improve procedures to ensure that all Marylanders receive the assistance they need when contacting our department via phone and email. For more information about unemployment insurance in Maryland, visit MDunemployment.com.