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COVID-19 in Maryland Working & the Economy

Md. Unemployment Likely to Surge Again, Even as Thousands Wait for Benefits

The Maryland Department of Labor’s new website to file unemployment claims has been balky since debuting last Friday.

Maryland is likely to see another massive surge in weekly unemployment numbers on Thursday ― even as the state continues to field droves of complaints from cash-strapped Marylanders who say they’ve been unable to apply for benefits for weeks.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was the latest official to address issues with the state’s new unemployment insurance benefits website, which was launched on Friday and immediately crashed under the weight of demand from Marylanders out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With all of the economic struggles that people are already going through, they should not have to worry about getting the resources that they need and that they deserve,” Hogan said at a State House news conference Wednesday.

While the surge in unemployment claims is unprecedented ― as of last week, more than 344,387 Marylanders filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March ― Hogan said the state and its web vendor had fallen short “and the buck stops with me.”

“So I am going to make sure that they do and that we do whatever it takes to get this straight so that every single Marylander gets every single penny of financial assistance that they deserve,” he said.

Since the website was launched on Friday, more than 245,000 people have established accounts through the filing system, thousands of them directed into a virtual waiting line to receive notice for when they can file claims. More than 100,000 new unemployment claims have been filed since Friday, Hogan said, including independent contractors, gig workers and self-employed Marylanders ― groups of workers who didn’t previously qualify for regular unemployment, but were extended benefits through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

While Hogan expressed displeasure with the number of Marylanders who are still unable to file claims, he said the Maryland site is working better than most other systems in the country.

“There was never a website in America to support this. We created a brand new one. We were one of the first states in the country to do it. It’s not good enough,” Hogan said. “But it is better than waiting for days on the phone and never having it answered because we had 40,000 calls coming in at the same time.”

At the beginning of the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup meeting Wednesday morning, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) also expressed frustration about access to unemployment insurance.

“I think nobody is satisfied. I think there is frustration across the board,” he said. “We’ve been in contact with the administration. I am certain that they are frustrated as well.”

Ferguson said other states have moved forward with their unemployment insurance programs successfully, adding that the legislature is willing to help wherever necessary to keep the program functioning.

“I know that everyone is committed to making sure that this gets done, and I think the Speaker and I agree that we stand ready to help where possible because there are just some really horrific stories out there of people who are really, really struggling, and it is absolutely essential that we have urgency to get this right no matter what it takes,” Ferguson said.

Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report

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Md. Unemployment Likely to Surge Again, Even as Thousands Wait for Benefits