Annapolis, MD – Today, Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House announced a package of reforms to immediately fix the broken unemployment insurance system that has denied so many Marylanders the life sustaining benefits they deserve.
”For the last ten months, we have been in a crisis in our state when it comes to Unemployment Insurance,” stated Senate President Ferguson. “This legislative package will make certain that Marylanders experience better customer service, faster response times, and will prepare the Department to make certain this crisis never occurs again.”
“Legislators and staff of both parties have spent the year trying to get thousands of desperate constituents answers on their UI claims,” said Speaker Jones. “We’ve seen the dysfunction up close. We’re going to help unemployed Marylanders right away and chart a new vision for our UI system so we’re prepared for future challenges.”
The legislative package includes the following immediate fixes:
- Modernizes the UI system by ensuring that people can receive their unemployment benefits through direct deposit and simplifies the steps to get a paper check
- Ensures the call center is adequately staffed, makes it easier to allow people to leave a call back number, and requires caller-ID for UI calls to claimants
- Requires adequate language access and a comprehensive review of all UI materials – including the website – for reading accessibility
- Provides UI applicants a checkbox to get their information to the Health Benefit Exchange for health insurance assistance
- Requires the Department of Labor to track the percentage of laid-off workers who apply for benefits and establish mandated goals
- Creates metrics for claim adjudication and requirements for response times
“The state’s reply to struggling Maryland families cannot be unanswered phone calls. Tens of thousands of Marylanders are still waiting for answers,” said Chairman Dereck Davis. “We’re going to pass emergency legislation to make sure their phone calls are returned, their checks are mailed and their families are helped. Accountability and urgency must improve.”
“There has been no constituent issue that has been more time consuming, and infuriating than Unemployment Insurance issues,” said Chair Delores Kelley. “We need to get back to the basics. People should be able to call up a Department and get a response, know when the Department is calling them, and hold the Division to standards.”
The legislative package also includes the following structural fixes to ensure these problems never happen again:
- Substantially increases the income disregard so Marylanders can earn some amount of money while still receiving unemployment benefits. This is a necessary change in the new gig economy.
- Helps struggling businesses cope with the increased costs of unemployment insurance because of their pandemic-related layoffs.
- Requires the Department to undertake a study of broader reforms covering maximum weekly benefits, experience ratings, long term solvency, expanded eligibility, and more. They’ll be required to provide monthly updates until completing the final report at the end of 2021.
- Creates a disaster protocol for the Department to improve transparency and remove red tape to be able to increase staffing and give greater hands-on assistance more quickly.
“We need to make sure that these problems aren’t just solved for this year, they must be solved for the future,” said Senator Katherine Klausmeier, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight. “We will waive employer experience rating, and make the Department prepare a Disaster plan, that they will keep on hand for the future to be properly prepared.”
“Unemployment insurance is supposed to help Marylanders at a low point- when they’ve lost a job. It has failed Maryland families,” said Delegate Ned Carey, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight. “Working with non-partisan legislative staff, we going to require the Department to undertake a study of broader reforms to help the unemployed and businesses.. We must have a plan in place to make sure this never happens again.”
“The COVID crisis has shown Maryland’s UI system is broken,” said Senator Jim Rosapepe. “Everyday, working people are being denied benefits they’ve earned. Too much red tape, too little customer service. Our proposals are aimed at fixing UI immediately — and for the future.”
“The failure of our UI system is heartbreaking for so many reasons,” stated Delegate Lorig Charkoudian. “In addition to providing a safety net for struggling Marylanders, the UI system is a crucial countercyclical macroeconomic tool, designed to quickly inject money into the economy at the very time the economy is hurting most. For everyone’s sake, it needs to work.”
The legislation, contained in multiple bills, will be introduced this week.